Reviews for An Officer And A Spy

by Robert Harris

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Harris's best-selling 1992 fiction breakout, Fatherland, portrayed an alternate history in which Germany won World War II and a questioning protagonist uncovered uncomfortable facts about his country. His latest book involves a similar theme but depicts a very real historical event, the infamous Dreyfus Affair. The tale is told by Maj. Georges Picquart, a rising star in the French military circa 1895. Shortly after he witnesses the public humiliation and imprisonment of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer accused of treason, the major is appointed head of the "Statistical Section," the country's blandly named spy agency. An adept student of spycraft, Picquart soon becomes aware of other plots to sell French secrets. He also discovers that his predecessor's case against Dreyfus was shockingly weak, but no one in the complacent, corrupt, and frequently anti-Semitic government wants to hear the truth. Picquart is a fascinating protagonist and narrator, personally flawed but determined to pursue the truth even when government resistance threatens his career, his life, and everyone around him. His story draws an uncomfortable parallel to current events; as Valerie Plame, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange can attest, 21st-century governments still resent troublemakers who reveal embarrassing truths. VERDICT This is an atmospheric and tense historical thriller, with a flawed but honorable protagonist fighting against entrenched complacence and bigotry.-Bradley Scott, Corpus Christie, TX (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*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 attache. When he's denied permission to launch a sting operation, Picquart joins forces with a Surete (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 Carre, 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).--Tran, Christine Copyright 2010 Booklist

Publishers Weekly
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Harris (Fatherland) provides easily the best fictional treatment of the Dreyfus Affair yet, in this gripping thriller told from the vantage point of French army officer Georges Picquart. Major Picquart is present on the day in 1895 that Alfred Dreyfus is publicly degraded as a traitor to his country, before his exile to Devil's Island. Soon afterward, Picquart is promoted to colonel, to assume command of the Statistical Section, which is actually the army's espionage unit. Picquart comes across evidence of another traitor spying for the Germans, and his investigation uncovers something unsettling: the handwriting of the spy, Walsin Esterhazy, is a perfect match for the writing on the letters that the French government claimed were from Dreyfus. Furthermore, review of the classified evidence against the exile reveals nothing of substance. Picquart pursues the truth, at personal and professional risk, in the face of superiors eager to preserve the official version of events. Harris perfectly captures the rampant anti-Semitism that led to Dreyfus's scapegoating, and effectively uses the present tense to lend intimacy to the narrative. First printing of 100,000. Agent: Michael Carlisle, Inkwell Management. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.