The Return Of Captain John Emmett

Wednesday, June 30, 2010
The Return Of Captain John Emmett

Read our review of Elizabeth Speller's The Return Of Captain John Emmett then tell us what you think on the form below for a chance to win a copy of the AWW Cooking School cook book and have your critique printed in The Australian Women’s Weekly books pages.

When a young English soldier unexpectedly commits suicide, a tangle of tragic and sinister secrets is revealed.

The first thing you notice about debut novelist Elizabeth Speller is the richness and intensity of her writing. While the slick thriller elements of her plot build, it’s the emotionally fulfilling description of time and place that pulls you in.

The story opens with an almost filmic description of a train carrying the coffin of an unknown soldier, a casualty of World War I, passing through a station in Kent, England, the platform lined with soldiers saluting and civilians – mostly women – in mourning. And it is this attention to visual detail that makes the book so engaging.

It’s the 1920s and Laurence Bartram has cheated death on the Western Front, only to face a peacetime life without his young wife and child, who ironically both died in childbirth while he was facing gunfire on the battlefield.

Feeling detached and alone, and marking time without engagement, he receives a letter from the sister of an old school friend, John Emmett, pleading for his help.

John survived the war, but returned a tortured man, eventually committing suicide, and his sister is desperate to understand why her brother took his life. Laurence, too, is intrigued to get to the bottom of what destroyed his once-confident friend.

What he discovers develops into a complex crime caper with a surprising plot full of sinister goings-on, plenty of corpses and unconscionable secrets.

Retrospective incidents from the battlefield are made all the more real thanks to the author’s acute attention to detail and extensive research.

Yet above all, the sensitivity of Speller’s writing shines through her powerful scenes, such as those in a priory where wounded soldiers are tended by nuns, the terrifying British mental asylum John Emmett is trapped in and the execution of a lieutenant by a firing squad in France, which has far-reaching effects on all who witness it.

Read The Return Of Captain John Emmett and in 30 words or less, tell us what you think of it. The best critique will win The AWW Cooking School cookbook, valued at $74.95, and be printed in the September issue of The Weekly.

Please ensure you leave an email address you can be contacted on in order to be eligible for the prize.

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