As the United States and its allies grapple with long-running conflicts overseas, it is not surprising that some authors have turned once more to the Great War and its effects not just on national psyches, but on individual ones as well. In the mystery genre, Anne Perry and Jacqueline Winspear have approached that war and its veterans with modern sensibilities and modern research capabilities. Now a British debut novelist, Elizabeth Speller, has added a polished puzzle of her own: The Return of Captain John Emmett.
Laurence Bartram is a veteran whose wartime horrors were compounded by the homefront deaths of his wife and newborn son. He's a bit adrift, so when an old school chum and fellow combatant's sister contacts him to ask if he might make some inquiries into her brother's apparent suicide--shellshocked Captain John Emmett appears to have shot himself after fleeing a countryside convalescent home--Bartram jumps at the chance of something to do.
Bartram begins asking questions of people who can be connected to Emmett, and while he does so with almost painfully good manners, his peregrinations have a somewhat Bertie Wooster-ish feel: he's stumbling in the dark, sometimes because information is deliberately withheld, more often due to the vagaries of the British class system's slow postwar dissolve. But even his bluff friend Charles Carfax's fascination with detective novels can't solve the real conundrum at the heart of this deceptively quaint book, which is all about how soldiers return and are--or aren't--reintegrated into society. --Bethanne Patrick, editor, Shelf Awareness