Day 1008: An Officer and a Spy

Cover for An Officer and a SpyAn Officer and a Spy is about the Dreyfus Affair. Of course, we know how the Dreyfus affair turned out, but in writing about it, Robert Harris has managed to infuse the story with suspense. He accomplishes this by concentrating not on what happens to Dreyfus himself but on the man who exposed the sham.

At the beginning of the novel, Georges Picquart is only peripherally involved in the Dreyfus affair, but the generals in charge see him as helpful and he is rewarded by being put in charge of the Statistical Section, the army’s intelligence department. Picquart does not want the post, but he soon finds he is good at his job.

His staff seems distrustful of him, while he believes that some of their methods are sloppy. He receives intelligence that indicates that there is still a traitor in the French army, and it is not long before he figures out that the army has found Dreyfus guilty for crimes committed by a Major Esterhazy.

When Picquart notifies his superiors of what he believes is a mistake, his investigation is shut down. Soon, he is sent on a mission out of the country and begins to believe that his own staff is working to discredit him. It becomes clear to him that Dreyfus was actually framed for Esterhazy’s crimes in a climate of antisemitism.

Soon, Picquart is striving to save his own career and reputation. But he also refuses to give up on his campaign to right a wrong.

This novel is deeply involving and at times truly exciting. I have not read Harris before, but picked this up because of my project to read finalists for the Walter Scott prize and since I have read it, have read most of Harris’s Cicero trilogy. This novel is a masterful historical novel that is full of suspense.

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6 thoughts on “Day 1008: An Officer and a Spy

  1. Naomi December 8, 2016 / 12:05 pm

    It sounds like a good way to learn more about the Dreyfus Affair!

  2. whatmeread December 8, 2016 / 1:18 pm

    It assumes a little bit of knowledge because it picks up after Dreyfus has been found guilty, but I think it’s clear enough.

  3. FictionFan December 8, 2016 / 1:55 pm

    I loved this book – like you, it was my first introduction to Harris and he’s since become a firm favourite. I haven’t read his Cicero books yet, though I have a couple of them waiting, but I enjoyed Enigma and his new one, Conclave, very much. It’s great to find such a good writer with so many books ready to be read… 🙂

    • whatmeread December 8, 2016 / 3:12 pm

      He has become a favorite of mine, too! I am just now reading the last Cicero book. Haven’t posted them yet.

  4. Helen December 8, 2016 / 3:32 pm

    Like you, I only read this because of the Walter Scott project, but I loved it. The Cicero trilogy is great too. I’m hoping to read his new book, Conclave, soon.

    • whatmeread December 9, 2016 / 10:17 am

      Yes, I am almost finished with the Cicero books and enjoying every word. For some reason I thought I had read a book by him before, but I got him confused with someone else.

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