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on October 9, 2013
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. However, as the expert graphologists disagreed as to whether writing was Dreyfus's or not, investigations into Dreyfus being the spy quickly became slewed to create and falsify the evidence with the sole aim to prove the Jew's guilt, rather than continue to investigate who the spy really was. Jewish, therefore guilty.

Dreyfus was sent to Devil's Island, and was the only prisoner there, kept in appalling conditions of barbaric inhumanity.

An army officer, who had in part been involved in the initial capture and prosecution of Dreyfus, Georges Picquart, had been promoted to head of the army intelligence unit. Originally believing in Dreyfus' guilt, he ended up uncovering the truth, and that the conviction of Dreyfus had been a sham. However, this is only the beginning of the bizarre events which transpired. On laying his suspicions and discoveries about the real spy, in front of superiors, ranks closed against Picquart. An extremely loyal Frenchman and army officer, who also had absorbed the anti-Semitism of his society, Picquart still felt justice was the most important factor, above loyalty to the organisation or the country. In fact, how could loyalty to injustice serve anyone's interest?

In a truth is much stranger than fiction development, the inability of the army, the judiciary and the politicians to admit they had made a huge mistake in convicting Dreyfus, led to a bizarre investigation whereby anyone involved in trying to uncover the truth of the affair, - including Picquart himself, became the subject of allegations of treason. In refusing at an early stage to admit a wrong conviction, the cover-up of the cover-up got deeper, weirder and more criminally psychotic.

Harris presents the whole history of this shocking event, and his novelist's sense fleshes out what might otherwise be incredibly complicated transcipts.

Although I did know about the Dreyfus affair, mainly because of the involvement of the French realist novelist Emile Zola in publicising the infamy of the State machinery, with his famous J'Accuse letter in L'Aurore on the 13th January 1898, I did not appreciate the full depth and complexity of this most infamous, deliberately constructed miscarriage of justice.

I sacrificed a night's sleep to this book, truly unable to put it down.
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on October 13, 2013
To call this a spy thriller is to diminish its quality.it 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.
The rest of the characters are extremely well described and formed and a number of different historical persons that make Cameo appearances build an excellent understanding for the Reader about the French Society of those times with its deep political divisions and prejudices and the French Army's Trauma from its defeat by the Germans 25 years before.
The story is essentially the struggle for the truth to come out fighting against the Establishment and an Administration that will go a long way to cover its crime of condemning an innocent man for reasons of politics and prejudices
The Author,a master of elegant descriptive prose,with a magnificent economy of style revives the era ,it's characters and the surrounding atmosphere,respecting the historical truth but embellishing it with rich talented descriptions of situations,actors,ideas and feelings so that the part of the plot that is already known is only the skeleton of the harmoniously fleshed out story.
The story can be read as a thriller or as a novel of high literary value because it is both.I did not have a single dull moment reading it.
It is strongly recommended for both the casual and the intellectual reader,there is intrigue,action, thrills and quality to satisfy all.
DVK
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on September 27, 2013
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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on January 16, 2014
I thought this was a cleverly written book which really brings to life the Dreyfus Affair and paints a clearer picture of the protagonists which no factual chtrnological biography can. I learnt no new facts because I was well aware of the story but I was more able to empathise with the various characters and appreciate the real depths to which the honourable French Army had sunk.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Robert Harris has specialized in political thrillers set in carefully researched historical contexts. Sometimes they are counterfactual, such as his brilliant FATHERLAND. Sometimes they graft a fictional story onto a matrix of documented truth, as in ENIGMA. But never, I think, has he ventured before into territory so factual in its detail, and for which so much is documented, as is the Dreyfus Affair, which galvanized France between 1894 and 1906. It would have been perfectly possible, I believe, for the publishers to have issued this book as imaginative non-fiction, in which only the characters' thoughts and spoken lines were invented by the author. But it reads, at least for the first two-thirds of its length, as a gripping thriller worthy of Frederick Forsyth, or indeed of Harris himself. That two such different genres are in fact perfectly compatible is high proof of the author's skill.

I began the book with scant knowledge of the Dreyfus Affair, and if other readers come to it with similar ignorance of its detail, I urge them to hold off from checking on the Internet until later. I knew, for example, that Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jew, was found guilty of giving military secrets to the Germans in 1894, stripped of his rank, and condemned to solitary confinement on the tropical Devil's Island. I knew that the entire case rested upon flimsy evidence and irregular legal procedures, riding on a wave of national anti-Semitism. And I knew that the slow growth of dissent reached a tipping point in 1898 with Emile Zola's open letter to the French President, headed "J'Accuse."

I assumed as I was reading that all the major figures in the book would be based upon the real army officers who brought the case against Dreyfus and later defended it in rearguard action. But I thought it was a brilliant stroke of Harris's to invent a fictional character to work in among the real figures, but with a freedom of action only available to the novelist. This is Major Marie-Georges Picquart, who is deputized to attend the Dreyfus court martial as the eyes and ears of the Minister of War, as the result of which service he is promoted to head the Intellgence section of the General Staff, the youngest colonel in the French army. In this new position, he comes across evidence that makes him doubt his earlier conviction and soon has him playing spy himself, in secret meetings and stakeouts all over Paris. Add in a dash of clandestine romance (with two different high-placed women), and you have a spy of fiction who, if not James Bond, could at least have been his great-uncle.

I could hardly believe it when I discovered that Picquart was also an historical figure, so completely has Harris filled out not only his adventures, but his personal feelings and especially his moral dilemma: how to balance his love for the army and duty to his superiors against the dictates of his conscience. This is exactly what a novelist should be doing, and Harris handles it superbly. His character acts as though driven by inner forces, rather than running along the preordained rails of the historical record. 

But there inevitably comes a time when no amount of derring-do can save the day by itself, and the outcome is determined by the slow grinding of the wheels of political expediency and legal procedure. The last 100 pages of the book are less exciting than the first 300, but they are true to the public record and fascinating in their own right. Indeed, I regard it as a strength that Harris never takes short cuts or polarizes the issues. He does not disguise the fact, for instance, that Picquart was apparently not personally well-disposed to Jews, or that Dreyfus was not an especially likable individual; the moral issues have even greater force taking place within a general climate of anti-Semitism, rather than a grand battle between tolerance and bigotry. Picquart and all the major characters in this excellent novel are REAL -- not because they really existed, but because a talented author made them so.
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on February 23, 2014
Robert Harris writes superior crime or suspense fiction, usually with historical background, sometimes a counter- historical one. He is one of few contemporary authors whom I follow loyally since years. Though I don't generally like fictionalized treatments of history, I make exceptions. Harris is always interesting.

The subject in his latest novel is the Dreyfus scandal of the late 19th century.
We are given a diary-like first person/ present tense narration in the voice of a French secret service officer. (The man would in real life later become French Minister of War.) The style is deliberately simple and matter of fact. Our source is an individualist, a critical observer of his world. He is not at ease in his position as a new promotee, the youngest colonel in the army, and he dislikes the spy business.

Despite his generally skeptical attitude, he asserts initially that he fully believes the accusations against Dreyfus. It happened in an atmosphere of antisemitic mass hysteria and the trauma of the 1870 war defeat against Prussia, with the loss of much territory. Based on threadbare evidence, Dreyfus has been condemned for providing army secrets to Germany. As an Alsatian Jew, he is suspected of placing his loyalty with Germany. It was less a judicial error than a deliberate injustice.
The book stays as near the known facts as possible. Dreyfus was innocent, but he suited the ideal profile for a scapegoat. The crime of treason was actually committed, just not by Dreyfus.

What we are given in this coldly brilliant book is a thriller about a judicial injustice. We can also read it for its observations on the world of information: secrets, deception, fraud, propaganda, delusion. The vast relevance of espionage for daily life should be obvious today, but its definition is so hard. It is a movable target. What does a spy do? Read newspapers? Read other people's mail? Listen in on dinner talk? What about market research or due diligence? Both are activities that can be and are often enough interpreted as espionage. Industrial and trade secrets, intellectual property rights, shredders, encryption, code breakers...
Spy craft has progressed since the Dreyfus days. We are confronted with modern espionage technologies on a daily basis. The Snowden case is a constant reminder that this is not an obscure subject.
One of Harris' best, and very timely.
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on March 14, 2014
This is the only book by Robert Harris I have read. On the basis of an Officer and a Spy, I would not read another of his books. I found the book's writing to be slow-moving almost dull and none of the books characters ever came to life. The books subject is really great - about one of the great cover-ups and scandels in history - but think I would have enjoyed a non-fictional account of the trial(s) compared to this fictional account, as book's characters or writing style never grabbed my attention.

The historical story itself is the star in contrast to the slow, ponderous writing style...
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on March 1, 2014
It has been said that truth is often stranger than fiction and I believe mostly makes for more interesting reading. The intriguing truth of Robert Harris’s new book is his use of only real life characters in service of a historically actuate account of the 1895 French Dreyfus affair. Harris’s non-fiction novel* is told in the first person not from the perspective of Alfred Dreyfus but from that of a Colonel Georges Picquart (who really did in real life the things depicted in the novel). This first person narration provides the reader with a personal perception of suspense in a style similar to a Hitchcock thriller. Only in this case these events actually happened. We find we follow Picquart into a perfect storm as France is torn apart over conflicting views of the government’s case and by Picquart who like Dreyfus also becomes a man accused.
When coming to Harris’s book it is probably best that you know or remember little of the actual details of the Dreyfus affair. A simple overview is that the affair was a major French scandal that lasted some eleven years beginning in 1895 when a rich, aristocratic, Jewish Army Officer, Alfred Dreyfus is wrongly charged and convicted of treason via the use of secret government evidence. Dreyfus is disgraced and sent to Devil’s Island off the coast of South America as its lone prisoner. Colonel George Picquart who in actuality is just a minor bureaucrat transitions slowly into what we would regard today as a “whistle blower” as he happens upon proof that Dreyfus is innocent and no one listens. Overlay this with anti-Semitic French popular opinion which stereotyped Dreyfus as that guilty Jew.
The fun of the book is that it is both true and a remarkable story. The intrigue and historic significance of the affair becomes apparent as the many characters slowly come into clear focus. This not an action driven plot but more of an investigative procedural where clues are nothing but bits of paper, intercepted letters and listened to conversations. Picquart journey in a way becomes a metaphor for Frances views on the issue of Dreyfus’s guilt and it’s anti-Semitism. It begins with Picquart being a participant in the arrest of Dreyfus and then when selected to head the Army intelligent section Picquart begins to discover who the actual traitor might be. I say… might… because for a while we don’t know if Picquart is right or just misguided. The twists and turns of the case are extraordinary and make one page turn with surprises along the way. You come to feel Picquart’s frustration, self-doubts, and are often surprised like him by learning of some new event. It is apparent that many in a position of power whom should have known better interpreted facts to support opinions they already held. Something that seems to happen far too often even today.
All in all a very unique approach to Historical fiction and I found the book a must read. (*FYI, I think I first heard the term non-fiction novel applied to IN COLD BLOOD.)
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on February 25, 2014
Robert Harris brings life and real suspense to the over a hundred year old Dreyfuss Case. Yes, the suspense is there, even if you know how it was all going to end up. Although it starts slow the book builds momentum like a great spy thriller. He does this through the eyes of Colonel Georges Picquart, the newly installed head of army intelligence who uncovers how Captain Alfred Dreyfus was framed as a German spy by the French high command with the full connivance of the intelligence unit he was commanding. Of course Dreyfus' crime was being a Jew in the wrong place. Dreyfus ends up in a really wrong place: Devil's Island.

Piquart is what we today would be called a "whistle-blower" as he gradually uncovers the incontrovertible fact that Dreyfus was innocent. For his efforts he is exiled to an out-of-the way unit in Tunisia and later jailed. It was his documentation that provided the source for Emile Zola's famous "J'Accuse" public letter to the French Army that puts in train Dreyfus' ultimate release from jail and reappointment to the army.

Along the way we see Picquart's single and very modest daily life in the sights, sounds and smells of late 1890s Paris and his humanity with his affair with Pauline Monnier, a mother of two married to a French foreign service officer. We also smell the ugly stench of the French anti-semitism of the period. After all it was the Dreyfuss case that awakens the Austrian journaist, Theodore Herzl to the need of a Jewish State. All told I highly recommend "An Officer and a Spy."
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on February 27, 2014
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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