The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
Two years after the end of the Great War, Laurence Bartram, an officer traumatized by his experience of a modern battlefield, is trying unsuccessfully to rebuild his life when he is approached by Mary, a childhood acquaintance who is trying to understand the suicide of her brother.
Bartram's investigations lead him to discover a cluster of deaths among a group of ex-soldiers, all of whom were connected with the court-martial and execution of an officer for cowardice. Mary's brother had commanded the firing squad and it becomes clear to Bartram that he did not kill himself. Like the other ex-soldiers, he was executed. The question is, by whom?
The Return Of Captain John Emmett has won a great deal of praise. A critic in The Independent even described it as 'the new Birdsong…only better'. It think that a huge overstatement. There are certainly good things about it, in particular its focus on the psychological impact of the first mechanised war on the men who survived its brutalities as well as on those who perished. It also captures very effectively the social norms of the post-war society that seems extraordinarily repressed and restrictive to the modern mind.
However, I found it hard going. I had trouble distinguishing and remembering the different characters, there seemed very little momentum to the narrative, just a lot of rather circular conversations, and I thought the enormous chunk of exposition towards the end in which the villain's identity is revealed, was a bit melodramatic.