Monday, 15 August 2011
That Captain John Emmett had been one of the few young men lucky enough to return from the carnage of the Great War only made it even more incomprehensible to his family and friends that he had apparently taken his own life. Although her brother had returned from the fighting of World War I mentally fragile and suffering from shell shock and was placed in a nursing home to recover, he had seemed to be slowly improving in the weeks before his lifeless body was shockingly discovered lying in a lonely wood.
His sister Mary could not reconcile herself to the idea that her beloved brother could have committed suicide, so enlists the help of one of Captain Emmett's former school friends to investigate her his sudden death. But Laurence Bartram has ghosts of his own to contend with, as he too had fought in this 'War to end all Wars' and while he was in France he had lost his young wife and baby in childbirth.
But as Bartram starts his investigations, he discovers that there have been other mysterious deaths besides that of Captain Emmett's, and that they are all in some way linked to a tragic battlefield execution. Can Bartram uncover the truth before there are any more deaths? And what really happened to Captain Emmett in his nursing home? And what is the significance of a shadowy group of young war poets?
Elizabeth Speller's novel evocatively conjures up the febrile atmosphere of the years immediately after the Great War, where people were trying to return to some semblance of a normal life even though most had lost sons, husbands and brothers on the battlefields. This is a novel about the secrets people hold and that every man or woman who returned from the war was irrevocably changed and had dark places in their hearts and minds where even their closest companions could not reach.
The story also charts the tenderness and growing relationship between Bartram and Mary, who is a young lady with her own secrets to hide.
These days we find it hard to comprehend that a whole generation of young men could lose their lives in a hail of machine gun fire and artillery shells in a wet, muddy field, or that soldiers who were little more than boys could be shot in the foggy early light of dawn for their perceived cowardice, but this books explores how people were trying to come to terms with this new reality and the problems and tests of faith that it threw up at them.
This book will take you straight back to those traumatic post-war years, so go and find yourself an old fashioned pub in London, and order yourself some hearty pie and mash with a pint of real ale for lunch while you read!