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An Officer and a Spy: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 28, 2014

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Editorial Reviews Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, February 2014: A spy thriller and psychological examination, Robert Harris’s An Officer and a Spy looks at the infamous Dreyfus affair through the personage of a functionary-turned-whistle-blower. It’s Paris, 1895. A Jewish army officer, Alfred Dreyfus, has been convicted of treason and is imprisoned on Devil’s Island; he has been publicly humiliated, bound in chains, banished to solitary confinement. But was he really a spy for Germany--or was his fate sealed because he was a Jew in an anti-Semitic time and place? Slowly, the petit bureaucrat Georges Picquart begins to suspect that Dreyfus--portrayed here mostly through heart-wrenching real-life letters he wrote from prison to his beloved family--has been scapegoated. As Picquart amasses more and more evidence about Dreyfus, he also must come to terms with some of his own behaviors and attitudes. Still, for all its delicious detail about the mores of Belle Epoque Paris, both social and political, this novel is also one for the ages, or at least for the ages in which powerful intelligence agencies, government surveillance and cover-ups are worrisomely becoming the norm. --Sara Nelson

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Harris’ instantly absorbing thriller reanimates the Dreyfus Affair of 1895 through Colonel Georges Picquart, who exposed the conspiracy to frame Dreyfus for supplying the Germans with French Army secrets. After serving as the minister of war’s observer at Dreyfus’ military trial, Picquart is promoted to lead the army’s espionage unit. Picquart immerses himself in the dark work and quickly discovers evidence of another soldier leaking information to the German attaché. When he’s denied permission to launch a sting operation, Picquart joins forces with a Sûreté (police) detective to gather evidence through an unofficial surveillance scheme. Convinced that the secret evidence that convicted Dreyfus implicates his current target instead, Picquart investigates further and finds a conspiracy originating in the army’s top ranks. In the anti-Semitic climate of this pivotal period in French society, Picquart’s insistence that Dreyfus “the Jew” may be innocent creates dangerous, powerful enemies. Harris combats the predictability that can haunt fictional accounts of well-known events by teasing out the tale through Picquart’s training in espionage and investigation, his unsanctioned detecting, and the complex intrigues he navigates to secure a reexamination of Dreyfus’ case. Great for fans of Ken Follett, John le Carré, Louis Bayard, Caleb Carr, and Martin Cruz Smith, all of whom also portray historical intrigues and investigations with intricate detail and literary skill. Also try Jason Matthews’ recently published Red Sparrow (2013). --Christine Tran

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1St Edition edition (January 28, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385349580
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385349581
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,260 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #66,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Harris is the author of Pompeii, Enigma, and Fatherland. He has been a television correspondent with the BBC and a newspaper columnist for the London Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph. His novels have sold more than ten million copies and been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Berkshire, England, with his wife and four children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

182 of 192 people found the following review helpful By Lady Fancifull on October 9, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I overheard Harris being interviewed on Radio 4, talking about this 'novel' - except to call it a novel implies that it must be fiction. As Harris and the interviewer concurred, if someone invented the Dreyfus affair as a fiction, the writer would be castigated for having stretched credulity too far.

In fact, as Harris points out, all this is documented, and researched, and is a deeply shameful part of France's history. Except that what is even more worrying and shameful is that large scale cover-ups, the concept of obeying orders without question, systems protecting their own despite betraying principles of justice, and inherent racism are not endemic flaws peculiar to late nineteenth and early twentieth century France

The infamous Dreyfus affair involved a Jewish army officer, Alfred Dreyfus, who was convicted of spying for Germany, in 1895. There was certainly a spy within the French army, a man who was violent, untrustworthy, and with gambling debts and a mistress as well as a wife to support. But that man was not Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus was a loyal and conscientious, if not particularly likeable, officer. The question which must be asked is - was Dreyfus not particularly likeable, or was he not particularly likeable because he was Jewish - anti-Semitism was deeply entrenched in society. A culture of what we have learned to define as Institutional Racism was certainly present - but not just within Institutions

Dreyfus was convicted because as a Jew he was the automatic one to suspect, even though, right from the start, the evidence was circumstantial, and largely turning on evidence from a graphologist.
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92 of 96 people found the following review helpful By D.V. KOKKINOS on October 13, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
To call this a spy thriller is to diminish its is of course a spy thriller and a fascinating detective story but it is much more than that.I believe that it is Harris best and one of the few outstanding dramatic action historical novels of all times
It is the narrative of the Grand Drama,political,military and human that took place in France between the late 19th and the early 20th Centuries,the Dreyfus affair.
All main characters of the novel are real historical persons.The wrongly accused as a German spy Major Dreyfus a French Officer and an Alsatian Jew, a model of stoicism,a man of professional and family values,portrayed superbly by the Author as History delivered him to posterity,a man of schoolmasterish appearance and enormous inner strength who suffered his own Calvary because of the prejudice that haunts his Race, before his exoneration .
The principal character, Colonel Picquart,an Alsatian himself narrates the story in the first person.He is the new Head of the Statistical Section which is the front for the French Army's counterespionage team.He knew the Dreyfus affair from the beginning but did not initially challenged it.He is the subject of a superbly drawn psychological and physical portrait by the Author,he is so vividly described by Harris as he really was that one feels that knows him.
Picquart ,while no Saint and with the limitations of his profession and his social class,is a man of integrity,intelligence and dogged determination as well as a crafty bureaucratic fighter that knows the system well.
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90 of 99 people found the following review helpful By Wendy Jones on September 27, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I don't often read historical books, preferring a contemporary setting, but I always make an exception for Robert Harris. It is some time since I have read one of his books so when I was offered the chance of an advance reader copy I accepted gratefully. Actually that is putting it mildly. I leapt at the chance.

This book is set in France at the turn of the 20th century. It is based on a true story where Alfred Dreyfuss, an officer in the French army is accused, tried and found guilty of being a spy. Some years later Georges Picquart, an officer involved in the case, finds evidence that this may not be the case. This simple premise hides a book which is more than absorbing.

Harris writing has the ability to draw you into the story and transport you to the places of which he is speaking. I could hear the stomping of the horses feet, smell 19th Century Paris in the summer and felt like I was best friends with the characters. The characters are exquisitely drawn and each, whether bad or good, felt like real people. It was obvious a lot of work had gone into the research for this book.

Throughout the book Harris had me in the palm of his hand. The storyline is enthralling and urged me to keep reading. The twists and turns had me on a roller coaster ride of emotions. I genuinely cared about all of the characters and what happened to them. That was the case for all the characters even if I was urging them to get their just deserts. These are the signs of a good book and this one is more than good, it is outstanding. It is some time since I have read a book which absorbed me so completely. This is a definite highly recommended.

I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in return for a fair and honest review. My review is based on my reading, and enjoyment, of the book.
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