An officer and a spy

by Robert Harris

Paper Book, 2013

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

London : Hutchinson, 2013.

Description

January 1895. On a freezing morning in the heart of Paris, an army officer, Georges Picquart, witnesses a convicted spy, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, being publicly humiliated in front of twenty thousand spectators baying 'Death to the Jew!' The officer is rewarded with promotion: Picquart is made the French army's youngest colonel and put in command of 'the Statistical Section' - the shadowy intelligence unit that tracked down Dreyfus. The spy, meanwhile, is given a punishment of medieval cruelty: Dreyfus is shipped off to a lifetime of solitary confinement on Devil's Island - unable to speak to anyone, not even his guards, his case seems closed forever. But gradually Picquart comes to believe there is something rotten at the heart of the Statistical Section. When he discovers another German spy operating on French soil, his superiors are oddly reluctant to pursue it. Despite official warnings, Picquart persists, and soon the officer and the spy are in the same predicament. Narrated by Picquart, An Officer and a Spy is a compelling recreation of a scandal that became the most famous miscarriage of justice in history. Compelling, too, are the echoes for our modern world: an intelligence agency gone rogue, justice corrupted in the name of national security, a newspaper witch-hunt of a persecuted minority, and the age-old instinct of those in power to cover-up their crimes.… (more)

Media reviews

What Mr. Harris cannot do, because of this book’s small-bore details and his obvious need to be comprehensive, is offer an overall sense of what other forces contributed to this outcome of the case. The Dreyfus affair prompted an outpouring of angry voices, but Mr. Harris has filtered all that passion through the eyes of one exceptionally dispassionate and distant man, according Picquart the crucial stature of whistle-blower

User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
I knew very little about the infamous Dreyfus Affair until recently when I was reminded of it while reading Margaret MacMillan’s new WWI history The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. Fortuitously, I heard rumblings of a great new spy novel by Robert Harris and picked up An Officer and a Spy a few days ago, not actually realizing that Harris had published a fictional retelling of the notorious French military incident. And what a magnificent retelling it is.

Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish officer in the French Army in 1894 when he is arrested and charged with treason for delivering French military secrets to the enemy, Germany. In spite of scant evidence, he is convicted and sentenced to life in prison, to be served on the French penal colony, Devil’s Island, off the coast of Guiana. Harris’ chilling portrayal of an Army and justice system run amok had me up until the wee hours, devouring his suspenseful narrative that screeched and halted through time at the behest of both fictional and real historical characters.
As the story opens, the narrator, Col. Georges Picquart, has just witnessed Dreyfus being stripped of his rank before thousands of gleeful, cheering Parisians. Picquart has also just been promoted, the youngest colonel in French military history and the new head of the counterespionage agency that just “proved” Dreyfus’ guilt. While in this role, Picquart goes on to discover that the evidence that convicted Dreyfus has not really proved his guilt at all and, as a matter of fact, it indicates a different man’s guilt altogether. As he tries to convince the men under him as well as his commanding officers that an innocent man has been convicted, Picquart discovers that a web of deceit and conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of government and the military, has been carried out and that proving his theory will not be easy.

In addition to the heart pounding narrative that carries the reader along at breakneck speed, the inclusion of historically accurate documents and characters (including Zola, Proust, the Russian Tsar and the Clemenceau brothers) and the prevalence of anti-Semitism, nationalism, and public opinion all contribute to an atmosphere of social mores gone berserk.

But it’s Harris’ masterful storytelling that really carries the day and makes the narrative fairly sing: crisp dialogue and the positioning of his rogues gallery of forgers, spies, modest mistresses, half-hearted soldiers as well as the dramatic courtroom scenes combine to deliver a knockout thriller. Don’t miss it.
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LibraryThing member lostinalibrary
An Officer and a Spy begins in1896 shortly after Captain Alfred Dreyfus’ first Court Martial when he is publicly stripped of his rank in front of a huge crowd among shouts of ‘Death to the Jews!’ Dreyfus had first been arrested in 1894, accused of passing documents to the Germans. The evidence given at the Court martial seemed flimsy until secret documents were produced. These documents , which were purported to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt Dreyfus’ guilt, were not shown to the Defence. After his humiliation, he was sent to Devil’s Island where he will be kept in solitary confinement, where he is not allowed to speak to anyone including his guards.

The story is told in the first person by another officer, Georges Picquart and this is as much his story as Dreyfus'. Picquart played a minor role carrying news of Dreyfus’ public humiliation to the Minister of War. Although convinced of Dreyfus’ guilt, Picquart is disturbed by the fact that, even under the most humiliating of circumstances, Dreyfus continues to declare his innocence.

When Picquart is made head of the Statistical Section of the General Staff, the section responsible for Dreyfus’ arrest, he discovers evidence that Dreyfus was innocent and uncovers the officer who is actually responsible for the crimes for which Dreyfus has been convicted. When Picquart relays this evidence to those in charge, he is sent to Tunisia and even given a mission which would most likely end in his death. When this fails, he is imprisoned and is even charged with falsifying the evidence against the real spy. The country has been divided by the Dreyfus case and now with the Picquart’s evidence, Dreyfus’ supporters feel it is time to speak out. This includes Emile Zola’s famous editorial, J’Accuse in 1898.

Eventually, the military was forced to bring Dreyfus back for a second court martial where he is again found guilty. Then he was tried by a civilian court and, although they also find him guilty, he was given a pardon. He had spent four years on Devil’s Island. The Supreme Court of France would finally declare him innocent in 1906.

An Officer and a Spy is based on the Dreyfus Affair but it is fiction and, as such, as author Robert Harris points out some things have been changed, for example, Picquart never wrote a secret account of the Dreyfus Affair, and, of course, the dialogue is all down to Harris. However, he has maintained all the essential facts of the case. It is hard to imagine how an author can turn what is probably the most infamous miscarriage of justice in history into one heck of a good thriller. After all, even if we don’t know all the details, we all pretty much know how it will turn out. Yet, somehow, with this novel, author Robert Harris has done just that.
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LibraryThing member oparaxenos
What a good read this was! I picked up the book while I was on two long plane journeys and I simply could not put it down -- within two days I had raced through all 450 pages, and I am not a fast reader. Harris weaves a real thriller, and his achievement is all the more remarkable when one considers that the outcome is already known. In terms of pure readability, this was one of the best fiction books I have read in the past 5 years.… (more)
LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
The reader of this audiobook is exceptional, capturing the tone and flavor of each character, such that when the character laughs or harrumphs or sighs, you can truly hear it; you are a witness to the tragedy and the triumph of this story of injustice. In addition, the author has made the storyline incredibly exciting. It has none of the dryness one might expect with the telling of a historic event, even when fictionalized. Harris made the account of the Dreyfus Affair come alive on the page and made the reader a witness to the events, as if there, along with all of the spectators. The extraordinary details and research that went into the writing of this book is commendable. The narrative flows so smoothly, the characters literally erupt realistically from the pages. The tension and intrigue is palpable, the conspiracy and cover-up is monumental and overtly anti-Semitic. They had neither shame nor guilt, no compunction about framing an innocent man in their drive to further their own careers and protect the army.
The famous, or rather infamous trial of Alfred Dreyfus, will live on in history as a travesty of justice, as an example of man’s inhumanity to man. The French gendarmes and spymasters wanted a sacrificial lamb and who better to blame than a Jew. Dreyfus, was condemned, convicted of treason and sent to Devil’s Island in the hope that he would die there, eliminating the problem of his innocence. A model soldier, he was devoted to the cause of the French, even though his heritage was German, but that indeed, is what eventually made him the perfect foil. The French were demoralized by their loss in the war with Germany in 1870. To rise again, they needed a scapegoat. Did they sacrifice a man simply to embarrass Germany by pretending that because Dreyfus was German, he was the most likely suspect to pass along secrets to them? Would they then let the guilty man walk free? Their dishonorable behavior will not be forgotten.
Colonel Georges Picquart is the star of this “performance”, for indeed, the author and the reader made it seem like he was on stage, allowing the reader to watch and witness every nook and cranny of his investigation, complete with false accusations, forgeries, false imprisonments, kangaroo courts, prejudged trials, fraud, falsification of the facts, refusal to face the errors in the court case and correct them, anti-Semitism, French nationalism, possibly even murder to protect the cover-up, and a complete lack of ethics and morality.
In 1895, Georges Picquart was designated as the new head of the Statistical Section in the French Army’s intelligence division. He had been a “good boy”, a bit unwittingly, during the mockery of the secret trial of Alfred Dreyfus, actually leading him to the slaughter, and was subsequently rewarded with this position, the reason for which others were awaref, but he was not. When he discovered he had probably been used, he became suspicious of certain details of the arrest and trial, and he began to rethink the events that led to the arrest. When he discovered the possibility of another spy, he attempted to re-investigate the case. When he then discovered the fraudulent events and tactics leading up to the arrest of Dreyfus, he was appalled and tried to alert his superiors. Although he was not a lover of Jews, he was ashamed of the part he has played in this sham of a trial. They knew the evidence was false, tampered with and fabricated, yet they proceeded to cover their tracks and make a Jew the convenient victim, a victim that the masses loved to hate.
As Picquart attempts to inform his superiors, he is thwarted at every turn and eventually sent to far away places, losing his position and esteem, as they try to cover up their part in this miscarriage of justice. They are not interested in bringing the guilty man to bear, they only want to keep the innocent man imprisoned so they can continue their political and military rise. Dreyfus was indeed framed; Picquart knew he was innocent. He was tormented by the need to do something to correct the wrong that was done. As the conspiracy widened, he became more certain that he had to stop them. As Henri, who worked for Picquart had indicated, he, Henri, was the consummate soldier and would obey orders, regardless of what they were, in order to preserve and protect the army, and, of course, his own career. He, among others, told Picquart, many times, to stop his investigation and let the matter rest.
Picquart, merely wanted to do the right thing before the whole thing exploded and came down upon the head of the military, but he, too, was eventually arrested, framed by those who wished to hide their sins from the public eye. From the top down, they were complicit; the Minister of War, The Chief of Staff, and other important figures all played a role in this sham. The innocent were punished while the guilty man roamed free. The minor players, who could offer evidence, suddenly died. Were they murdered? Did they commit suicide?
The story details the effort to free Dreyfus and restore his honor. It highlights the tenderness he felt for his family, the devotion of his family and the entire Jewish community to his cause, and the horrific punishment he was subject to by the penal system that believed he was guilty. He was shackled, without any creature comforts and even forbidden his mail; he was isolated completely. The public believed he had committed treason, and the French couldn’t care less about him. To them he was a convenient traitor. His religion, as well as his crime, made him a pariah for the citizens of France, but a cause célèbre for his family, friends and fellow Jews.
In the end, Picquart may have shown his true colors. He wanted to do what was honorable but he did not care much for Jews. Although he had been restored to his rightful rank and was made the Minister of War in 1906, he refused to do the same for Dreyfus when he came to him requesting the same, to be made Brigadier General, the rank he would have held had he not spent years in prison. I wondered if that scene was put in the book to show the consistency, the prevalence of French anti-Semitism and/or the prevailing stereotype of the greedy Jew. What Picquart did was commendable, but he didn’t risk his life and career to save a Jew, though that was the outcome; he didn’t align themselves with their cause because a Jew was unjustly accused and imprisoned, he did it for the principle, he did it to do the right thing. I got the feeling, sadly, that he still did not like Jews!
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
I imagine we have all heard about the Dreyfus Affair, the subject matter of Robert Harris's latest novel but I must admit that I was lamentably ignorant of the finer details.

Alfred Dreyfus, a wealthy Jewish officer in the French army was convicted of treason in 1894 and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil's Island, an inhospitable prison island a few miles off the coast of French Guyana. Before being deported he was subjected to a numbing ceremony of public degradation in which the insignia of his rank were ripped off his uniform in front of a baying crowd of thousands, many of whom were screaming "Death to the Jew".

One of the witnesses to that ceremony was Marie-Georges Picquart, then a major in the army, charged with reporting back to General Mercier, one of the Chief's of Staff in the Ministry of War. Picquart knew Dreyfus, having taught him at the military academy and then supervised him during his induction into the General Staff. Shortly after this Picquart is promoted to Colonel and appointed to supervise one the counter-espionage section of the Intelligence Division. While there Picquart is required to review Dreyfus's correspondence with his family, which prompts him to look into the details of the alleged treason.

Picquart gradually become convinced that the evidence against Dreyfus is at best circumstantial and, more probably, the consequence of a deliberate ploy motivated by Anti-Semitic prejudice and envy of Dreyfus's wealth. Meanwhile he amasses evidence of the identity of the actual traitor.

Even though one knows the denouement Harris keeps the reader engaged. The novel is deeply researched and the relationships between the characters are entirely plausible, helping the story to race along. The cast of peripheral characters is impressive with Picquart consorting with Emile Zola and future Prime Minister Clemenceau. Very enjoyable and informative.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
I have lothe best book I read that year. Harris, in discussing his sources, says that the Bredin book is "still the preeminent account" of the affair for the general reader. I found this novel by Harris stuck pretty closely to the facts as I remember them--though I don't remember that Picquart and Henry had a duel, and wonder if that is fictional--and it is intensely exciting at times. I am always struck by the weirdness of French legal proceedings--so different from how I feel legal proceedings should be conducted. I also could not be admiratory of Picquart's private life, much as I admire what he did to see that Dreyfus received justice. This is a very easy to read novel and I enjoyed it greatly.ng had a great interest in the astonishing Dreyfus affair, and revelled in the account thereof in The Affair by Jean-Denis Bredin, which I read in 1986 and which was… (more)
LibraryThing member drmaf
Superb. IMHO this is Harris' best book so far. Better than Fatherland and far better than his clunky and awkward Roman novels. I had read a a bit about the Dreyfus affair but never really understood why it so bitterly divided French society and caused repercussions in French politics for decades. Harris has written a novel that really brings home the enormous impact of Dreyfus on Belle Epoque society. It is a slow burn, since the story is so well-known there are no surprises, but it is compulsive and enthralling. I simply couldnt put the book down until I had finished the last 200 pages (at 2.45 am). The characters are engaging and believeable, no-one is entirely white or entirely black. The hero is Marie-Georges Picquart, the career army officer who sacrifices just about everything for his belief in honour and justice. Dreyfus himself is a marginal character, not presented entirely sympathetically, typefied by the book's very last scene whewre he tempers his gratitude to Picquart by demanding his reinstatement to the rank he would have had had he not been falsely convicted. Harris' story belongs to Picquart, not Dreyfus, whom Harris seems to argue, suffers as much if not more than Dreyfus, entirely voluntarily, in his quest for justice. Cameo appearances by literary and historical giants like Emile Zola and Georges Clemenceau add substance and historical veracity to the story. Its simply a great book, a great read and a thought-provoking piece on what men will do, or not do, in their quest for what they believe is right. Cant recommend it highly enough.… (more)
LibraryThing member crgalvin
Robert Harris has taken the historical Dreyfus affair and written a page turning thriller. Even though one knows the end, his portrayal of the various characters involved in this infamous incident brings history to life the way textbook accounts can rarely match.

The story is told by Georges Picquart one of the officers initially involved in the delivery of information that led to the miscarriage of justice. His efforts to clear Dreyfus of the spying allegations lay bare the inadequacies of high command. Harris acknowledges that no diary has been found written by Picquart but in allocating the role of narrator to him, we find a conflicted character keen not to compromise his career but forced to choose between the easy path of denial and the path of righteousness.

This was a book I could not put down and I read it in a day, so compelling was the storytelling. I am a Robert Harris afficionado having read 6 of his 8 novels.
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LibraryThing member marilynr
Excellent! Made me want to read up on the Dreyfus affair!!
LibraryThing member rufusraider
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris is a very good historical spy novel set in the 1890's in France. The novel is based on the Alfred Dreyfus trials. The story is about a French Army officer who is tried as a traitor who delivered Army secrets to the Germans. He is found guilty and sent to the French penal island, Devils Island. He is the only prisoner on the island. The story concentrates on a French Army officer named Georges Picquart. He was on the General Staff at the time and was in charge of the recent military graduates of the Army college that rotated through positions on the General Staff. Dreyfus was one of those officers.

The Statistical Section, the counter spies of the French Army, became of aware of someone giving Army secrets to the German embassy in Paris. Through their agents, they became certain that Dreyfus was the spy. The story starts with the initial court martial that found Dreyfus guilty and sent him off to Devils Island.

Picquart is then assigned to lead the Statistical Section. As time progresses and he sees the evidence that was used to convict Dreyfus was questionable at best, he begins a new investigation that leads to the revelation that the spy is still operating and he identifies him.

I will leave the rest of the story for you to discover. The book starts a little slow as all of the information is laid out for you regarding the background of the events. The story slowly picks up the pace. At the end the story has you engrossed and not wanting to put the novel down. If you love spy novels that concentrate on the thought process to discover the truth without all of the action, this is a good book for you.
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LibraryThing member ozzer
This is fine historical fiction on the Dreyfus affair. Harris successfully evokes turn-of-the-century France and the elite military class that existed then. The first person narration lends a thriller flavor to the tale, in spite of this being a very well documented historical event. The primary focus of the novel is not Dreyfus, but Picquart. This is important because it explores some key whistleblower questions —unfortunately still unresolved today. Are these people heroes or traitors? What type of person does it take to defy immense political power and social isolation? Are there ever moments of doubt? Is redemption possible? How important are supporters? Harris uses the intricate details surrounding the Dreyfus affair to expound on all of these issues in his excellent novel. Some reviewers felt that this approach limited Harris’ ability to describe the important issues of the time that impacted the affair, but that is ground that has been heavily trod. Instead, if one views this novel as a portrait of one whistleblower, it it takes on considerable contemporary significance because it resonates well with today’s headlines and a tendency to want to “kill the messenger” that seems to be quite prevalent in the world today.… (more)
LibraryThing member MSWallack
Good, but it could have been so much better. I enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the Dreyfus Affair and about life in France and the French military around the turn of the century. And the protagonist made for a somewhat interesting character. However, I had two problems with the book (one of which is totally on me, and not on the author). First, I've always had difficult pronouncing French names. In this book, several characters all had names beginning with B and as a result, I found myself having a difficult time remembering just who was who and what their roles were. Like I said, that was my problem, not the authors. My bigger problem with the book was that I think Harris missed a chance to really examine anti-Semitism in France at the time. Sure, anti-Semitism was mentioned; how could it not. But the character never really delves into hard questions like why the anti-Semitism was so strong or why people were so willing to believe in it. A deeper exploration of those aspects of the story would have made for a much better books.… (more)
LibraryThing member maryreinert
Knowing absolutely nothing about the Dreyfus Affair, I read it based on a glowing review in the Kansas City Star. I was not disappointed. What a story! A highly researched novel, Harris has added fictional meat to the factual bones of the events in France in the late 19th century.

Although Alfred Dreyfus hardly appears in the novel, the accusations of being a German spy, the trial that sent him for four miserable years to Devil’s Island, and the work of a small group of individuals who stood up for what they believed was right is the basic story. Dreyfus was an easy target for the French government’s accusations. He was a Jew and he simply wasn’t very likeable. Germany was a threatening, and the French Department of Intelligence was paranoid. The road to promotion in the government was narrow, dissenters were not permitted. As a new colonel, George Picquart understands the rules until the circumstances become so evident that an innocent man has been found guilty in a huge miscarriage of justice. The machinations of the Intelligence department are slowly unraveled as Picquart attempts to right the wrong even to the point of his own downfall.

At first it might be a bit confusing with all the French names and titles, but thanks to the list of characters provided, it soon becomes a thriller that is hard to put down.
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LibraryThing member rglossne
A look into the infamous Dreyfus Affair, which rocked France at the end of the 19th century.
LibraryThing member sloopjonb
Harris' output is variable: he either writes agreeable historical fiction (the Cicero series), equally agreeable thrillers (Fatherland, Enigma) or complete tosh (Archangel). This novelisation of l'affaire Dreyfus is of the former kind: the story is told through the eyes of Georges Picquart, the officer who discovered Dreyfus' innocence, and is a well-crafted page turner. Not knowing very much of the case, I cannot speak as to its accuracy, but I gather Picquart was not quite the paragon Harris tries to portray him as ... which isn't surprising; neither author or writer are often happy with an unsympathetic lead.… (more)
LibraryThing member jmoncton
This was an amazing page turner filled with espionage, double agents, court trials and exile. And the really surprising thing? It was based on real events, the Dreyfus Affair. In the 1890s, the French intelligence got wind of a French officer who was selling military secrets to the Germans. They quickly determined that the culprit was Alfrred Dreyfus and went through a very public degradation, complete with ripping off medals and breaking his sword in half, and finally sentencing him to spend the rest of his life as the sole prisoner on a penal colony on Devil’s Island. But later, when there was evidence of a more French secrets being sold to the Germans, it was uncovered by Colonel Georges Picquart, in charge of French counter-espionage, that the French had caught the wrong spy. What was so fascinating about this story is the massive cover up by the French military and how much of this was driven by rampant anti-Semitism. This event wasn’t a minor scandal, but led to riots and a major overturn of the government. Robert Harris has made this exciting story into a thrilling page turner. Excellent!… (more)
LibraryThing member john257hopper
This is a superb novel, in my view the author's best since Fatherland. It is a lightly fictionalised story of the notorious affaire Dreyfus, when Alfred Dreyfus, a captain in the French army in 1894, was falsely convicted of passing military secrets to Germany, as a result of which he was sentenced to the notorious Devil's Island prison off the coast of south America. The fact of Dreyfus being Jewish enflamed the passions of anti-semitism rampant in France (and elsewhere) at the time and prevented any chance of the truth being recognised for years. The novel centres around the efforts by Colonel Picquart, the head of the misleadingly named Statistics Section (but really an intelligence unit), to uncover the flimsiness of the evidence against Dreyfus and uncover the real culprit, Major Esterhazy. In doing so, Picquart has to defy the attempts not only by his superior Generals and the Minister of War, but also by his brother officers and junior staff, to cover up the miscarriage of justice, including by forging evidence against Dreyfus. In many ways the whole tragic saga is a textbook example of how an Establishment, in this case the French Army, can close ranks, not in this case to protect an individual, but in order to ensure that its reputation is not tarnished by having to admit that Dreyfus was innocent. In the end, of course, the exposure of the tragically farcical lengths to which the French Army has gone, backed by many politicians and a hysterical anti-semitic press campaign, subjects leading generals and the Army's own reputation to far greater ignominy than would have been the case otherwise. Dreyfus was pardoned in 1900 and fully exonerated in 1906, but the case sharply divided French society, and it is arguable that the ease with which anti-semitism revived itself in France in the late 1930s and under the Occupation owed a lot to the desire of the extreme anti-Dreyfusards to exact revenge. A great page turning novel, almost the only fictionalisations being the inclusion of a romantic interest for Picquart and the inevitable telescoping of some events and minor characters.… (more)
LibraryThing member zzshupinga
ARC provided by NetGalley

Paris. 1895. The world stands on the brink of great changes with automobiles and planes in the near distant future, the greatest detective--Sherlock Holmes--will soon appear, and the gruesome murders of Jack the Ripper are close by. But even these pinnacles of achievements cannot overshadow the the travesty of Alfred Dreyfus, a young Jewish officer who was convicted of treason due to falsified evidence...and for being Jewish.

In this historical novel, Robert Harris brings the Dreyfus affair to life captivating readers from the very first pages until the very end. What could have been a dreary and boring recitation of facts comes to life as we ride along in the investigation of sabotage, treachery, and intrigue with Colonel Georges Picquart. Colonel Picquart discovered that the key piece of evidence against Dreyfus was falsified and in attempting to bring it to light, soon finds himself in the middle of a case far greater than he could have ever imagined. Warned to stay clear of the investigation or risk damage to his own career, Colonel Picquart ignores the threats to seek the truth and clear the name and career of Dreyfus. Picquart follows the clues to the very end...even though it may mean harm to himself, he will let justice prevail. Harris gives Picquart a compelling voice as we listen to him tell his story, and that of Dreyfus as well.

Harris is a master writer and has thoroughly research and documented this shameful part of France’s history, one that at one point they sought to hide. He shines light into the darkest places revealing that racism and antiSemitism were not given life by Hitler in World War II, but existed before that as well. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to any reader interested in historical fiction.
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LibraryThing member DavidO1103
Terrific story, the Dreyfus affair, told as a novel. Riveting throughout, even if you know (the basics of) the outcome.
LibraryThing member polarbear123
Really enjoyed this thriller all about the Dreyfus affair which has been largely forgotten but is a very important incident inFrench history and helps us to put the anti semitism felt in nazi germany in the 30s into some sort of European perspective. That aside this is simply great thriller writing.
LibraryThing member mikedraper
This is an excellent retelling of the Alfred Dreyfus affair that was the subject on most Frenchman's minds in the mid 1890s.

As tensions worsen between France and Germany, a source reveals that there is a French spy in the Army providing military information to Germany. The French spy is said to be a high ranking officer.

Maj. Alfred Dreyfus is accused and found guilty based on falsified evidence. One highly ranked officer was prominent in convincing others that Dreyfus was the guilty officer. The fact that Dreyfus was Jewish made it easier for the other officers to believe since anti-semitic feelings were strongly felt at the time.

Col. George Picquart tells the story from his point of view. He begins to doubt that evidence and when he learns the ID of the true spy, the Army Department would rather keep an innocent man in jail than admit that it made a mistake in the trial of Dreyfus.

The suspense is strongly felt as Picquart puts his own career on the line to convince others of Dreyfus's innocence and who the guilty officer really is. Picquart is sent to Tunis on a mission where his murder is planned.

The story continues and Dreyfus's many supporters rise to his defense led by Emile Zola who published an article J'Accuse where he points the finger at the real criminals in the matter.

Well done with characters out of history that tell their story with realism and literary excellence
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LibraryThing member everfresh1
Great and fascinating story. Very well written and researched - that is a rare case when you really can learn history from the work of fiction. All the important characters are real. Started somewhat slow but then it picked up the pace so I couldn't stop reading. "Democratic' France of that period doesn't look very good. It is also a cautionary tale, which is just as relevant today. The details would be different, but basically unrestrained government, whether an army or CIA or whatever, is always dangerous.… (more)
LibraryThing member Stbalbach
An Officer and a Spy retells the Dreyfus Affair as a thriller told in the first person as inspector Colonel Picquart who uncovered the conspiracy and was instrumental in bringing it to light. The book's strength is to capture the drama and immediacy of unfolding events. Basically a movie version for a wider audience. I wish the novel had more insight into the larger social context. Dreyfus was one of a number of "affairs" that occurred in France in the years after the Franco-Prussian War and they held some common themes that are still relevant - Dreyfus was more than a story of antisemitism and corrupt officials.… (more)
LibraryThing member GingerCrinkle
A book of two halves for me. The first half set the scene slowly; the second raced to the denouement. So it a long time to get going and then seemed to be over very quickly. There was strong sense of 1890s Paris and it was a good (for me) overview of the Dreyfus Affair, but ultimately, I was a bit disappointed.
LibraryThing member pierthinker
The Dreyfus Affair in France at the turn of the 20th century was a defining moment for the nation and enthralled the whole of western civilisation. In this novelisation we see history unfolding through the character of Georges Picquart. Georges is a colonel given charge of the Statistical Section - the Army's secret spy service - and comes to understand that Dreyfus has been wrongly convicted through the prejudice and incompetence of the Army General Staff. The novel follows Georges' attempts to uncover the truth, exonerate Dreyfus and bring the real traitor to justice, all the while fighting the indifference and even hostility of an Army bureaucracy that wants to let the matter die.

Harris paints a vivid picture of fin-de-siecle Paris and middle class customs and mores. He gives a detailed look at how internal spying and security operations actually worked at this time. Even though the chronology, facts and eventual outcome are known, this book is full of suspense and intrigue, drawing this reader in to want to read just a few pages more every time I picked it up.
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