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162 of 170 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First rate!
I have long been a fan of Robert Harris and was pleased to be given this novel as a birthday present. I devoured it in a couple of (longish) sittings. I recall studying the Dreyfus affair at school but these were hazy recollections at best. Having read the novel I am now seeking out a good non-fiction book on the topic so that I have a better appreciation of how well...
Published 13 months ago by D. P. Mankin

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not up to his usual standard.
Although it is a spy/detection story there is no suspense in the book we all know what happened at the end of the Dreyfus affair, if you do not then do not read on.

We have Dreyfus being stripped of his rank etc. at the start of the book and being reinstated at the end. In between the main protagonist slowly uncovers what happened and works to overcome the...
Published 3 months ago by Douglas Clark


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162 of 170 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First rate!, 27 Sep 2013
By 
D. P. Mankin (Ceredigion, Wales) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Hardcover)
I have long been a fan of Robert Harris and was pleased to be given this novel as a birthday present. I devoured it in a couple of (longish) sittings. I recall studying the Dreyfus affair at school but these were hazy recollections at best. Having read the novel I am now seeking out a good non-fiction book on the topic so that I have a better appreciation of how well Robert Harris has integrated fact with fiction. The novel is revelatory in terms of demonstrating through fiction the lengths governments will go to in order to conceal the truth. Dreyfus was, to put it succintly, fitted up. As the author has shown in previous novels he is adept at (a) evoking a period setting, (b) creating well rounded characters like the central protaganist here, Colonel Georges Picquar, through whose eyes the story unfolds, and (c) making political machinations seem totally believable (and you only have to look at some of the more recent political scandals in the UK to draw certain parallels to those in this novel). The author's prose style is as fluent as ever, plotting is handled superbly, and the whole story rattles along. What really shines through the fiction is the author's obvious fascination with this famous French scandal. Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dreyfus Affair, 17 July 2014
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For 50 years all I knew about " The Dreyfus Affair" was contained in those three words, probably read in a random list of historical events sometime. Thanks to Robert Harris I now know about the heroic efforts of the man who, having become convinced of Dreyfus' innocence, eventually found the way to win him freedom and justice, suffering imprisonment, vilification and false accusations himself in the process. Robert Harris tells the story from Picqhart's viewpoint revealing an incredible personal journey. A great true story wonderfully told. This story may be about a rather obscure event in French history but in many ways Picqhart's invisible battle against a powerful state, whose servants sought to compound lie upon lie rather than admit that an grave injustice had been perpetrated, may find resonances in so many places today where the only difference is that the states are bigger and even more powerful. Dreyfus was falsely accused chiefly because he was a Jew..... Now where have I heard that before.... . .?
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical fiction in one of its best editions, 21 Feb 2014
This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Paperback)
“An Officer and a Spy” written by Robert Harris who attracted worldwide public attention with his novel ‘Fatherland’, is a great historical fiction, which tells the less known story of Dreyfus affair that at the end of the 19th and beginning of 20th century divided France and led it to the brink of civil war.

The novel main character Georges Picquart works in French Army Statistical Section, he’s smart recently promoted leader of the counterespionage intelligence unit responsible for Dreyfus exposure as German spy that organized his trial. Alfred Dreyfus was a young Jewish officer, who due to treason conviction was sentenced to life imprisonment at Devil’s Island, while his rank was humiliatingly taken away from him in front of mob crowd of twenty thousand persons which shouted “Death to the Jew!”

Georges Picquart will begin to explore some clues that have emerged in this case, recognizing from the start that things are not exactly like they were presented by government and that obviously something or someone else is behind the accusations that Dreyfus was exposed to and due to which his life was ruined. He will start suspecting that there is still a spy in the French military and that wrong man was accused.

The story is incredibly realistic and reader will many times ask herself/himself if all those things could really happen to this unfortunate man, but to the novel main character as well, who only tries to get to the truth. And while his investigation becomes more complicated, offering only new questions rather than answers, Picquart will start questioning not only the Dreyfus verdict but also his own beliefs, his faith in the French people and the government to which he serves…

“An Officer and a Spy” is a story about the Dreyfus affair, which is not so well known in the rest of the world, and shows a remarkable fact that the anti-Semitic movement was particularly strong in France just before the First World War. On the other hand is amazing that a Jew was accused of helping the Germans forty years before the terrible harm that will be done to Dreyfus people by this same nation.

The affair that took place between 1894 and 1906 is universally seen as a symbol of injustice, being one of the most known examples of unjust accusations where the major parts were played by public opinion and media. In the end, all the accusations against Alfred Dreyfus will prove unfounded and in 1906 Alfred Dreyfus was reinstated in the French Army where he served during the whole of First World War. Dreyfus affair divided whole France, almost leading to the brink of civil war, and one of the most prominent supporters of Alfred Dreyfus was the known writer Émile Zola who took lot of credit that for the Dreyfus accusations rejection.

Robert Harris with this novel once again proved as one of the best historical fiction writer who created compelling characters resulting in his book, despite the length of over 400 pages, is easy to read almost without stopping, even though we know how it will end. Therefore, his great book can certainly be recommended to all those who loved ‘Fatherland’ and Harris style in general, because his latest work “An Officer and a Spy” is a very thrilling and well-written title.
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55 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Triumphant return to top form for Robert Harris, 26 Nov 2013
I have always enjoyed Robert Harris's books immensely, although I did feel he had "gone off the boil" a bit with his later ones. I did not particularly enjoy the two Roman ones, and felt that both The Ghost and The Fear Index were inferior to his earlier, cracking thrillers based around real events. My husband pre-ordered this book and read it obssessively on holiday, and I snatched it from him the minute he'd finished it.

We'd both read the various reviews, which served to act as a reminder about the politics and progression of L'Affaire Dreyfus - like most reviewers, we had a reasonable idea of the episode in outline, rather than the detail. One thing I was unaware of was quite how long it dragged on and how the French General Staff perpetrated almost any untruths rather than admit they were wrong. It did seem to resonate with some current affairs, but it was truly anchored in the late 19th Century, and did not attempt to view it in the light of the 21st. It was still breathtaking in its outrage, however and totally absorbing. The huge cast of characters were so well defined and described and the appalling dirty tricks were as thrilling as any fiction - and at times almost more extreme than could reasonably be imagined. The fact that Dreyfus was not a particularly likeable character, and his defendant Picquart admitted to not caring for him personally, made it all the more astonishing that Picquart was prepared to risk his career in his cause. I found it ironic that one of the things held against Dreyfus was that he was from Mulhouse (in Alsace Lorraine), spoke French with a German accent and his wealth came from Germany, whilst the majority of the Intelligence staff in the book (Picquart included) were also from Alsace(annexed by the Germans post 1870), and all burned with a consequent hatred of Germany.

Despite the outcome being known, I literally could not put this book down, and enjoyed looking up the various protagonists on Wikipedia (unlike some reviewers I did not find this impeded my enjoyment in any way.) The variety of magnificent - and in some cases downright ridiculous - moustaches on view somehow seemed to reflect the self-regard and stubborness of the French General Staff, who refused to admit their errors and machinations even when international interest was aroused. This is a book for anyone who is interested in 19th Century history, as well as Robert Harris fans.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The story is as much about the public transformation of ..., 3 Sep 2014
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Fictional memoir, factual history, good story

The story is as much about the public transformation of Colonel Georges Picquart from complicit army establishment figure to Dreyfussard, as it is about the wider Dreyfus scandal and how it divided France in the late nineteenth century. The private transformation is less obvious. Picquart is resolutely his own man throughout: dutiful though not obviously loving son to his dying mother, honourable army officer, suave adulterer (what did happen to Blanche?), lover of contemporary music, committed smoker and, as the book closes, we even glimpse the suppressed anti-Semitism which underpinned the Dreyfus conviction in the first place.

What Picquart is not at any stage, is a convinced radical, though he allies himself to a swathe of well-known radical thinkers such as Zola and Clemenceau. Picquart is, rather, a man of immense stubbornness, who is driven by a desire to expose the stupidity and boorishness presented by the clique of Henry, Mercier, Boisdeffre and Gonse. Picquart does not desire nor earn our sympathy, but his refusal to cow-tow to the forces of reaction make him just about heroic.

Harris manages to weave these nuances of character into a factual historic framework. The result is a compelling story told as a memoir cum thriller, in which the offices of the Statistical Section provide a grimy cloak for menace, conspiracy and the long drawn out unravelling of the plot to conceal the wrongful conviction of Captain Dreyfus.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a must Read, 31 Aug 2014
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I quite enjoy historical novels especially if they are based on actual factual events (Ken Follett springs to mind as an example). I was therefore drawn to this novel as it was based on the Dreyfus affair although I had not read any Robert Harris novels before.
The story is set in the late 19th early 20th century in France. A spy in the French army has been identified as Alfred Dreyfus who is publicly humiliated and sent into exile. The central character in the novel Major Georges Picquart is appointed head of the army secret service and promoted to Colonel. Within a few months of his appointment he forms the opinion that the real spy is not Dreyfus but someone else. The main body of the novel describes his efforts to persuade his superiors of Dreyfus's innocence.
The book is exceptionally well written, the reader is captured from page 1 and is almost impossible to put down. Fast moving, intricate but never dull. All characters in the book are well developed and believable. A superb book which I cannot recommend highly enough.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not up to his usual standard., 21 July 2014
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Although it is a spy/detection story there is no suspense in the book we all know what happened at the end of the Dreyfus affair, if you do not then do not read on.

We have Dreyfus being stripped of his rank etc. at the start of the book and being reinstated at the end. In between the main protagonist slowly uncovers what happened and works to overcome the injustice. He encounters a lot of resistance from the top of the French army (much to their eternal shame). There is some detail about how the intelligence service worked (can they really have been that bad ?), some politics and some anti-semitism but for me it never came together into a great book. I found it quite slow and I kept wondering "why would they do that" but the book never really any explanation except "to protect the army". If you are interested in the Drefus affair then read it, if you are looking for a normal Robert Harris story then forget it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important message, 10 Aug 2014
By 
Ian Fraser (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Paperback)
In this long but easily readable novel, Robert Harris makes clear how, when a country that is xenophobic and paranoid seeks to cover up a major miscarriage of justice, the entire state becomes corrupted, though he does not do this in a didactic way. You grow to love the few who are willing to risk their lives to fight for truth and justice--especially Colonel Georges Picquart--and to despise those characters who have no qualms about seeing an innocent man continue to languish on Devil's Island just so they can spare themselves, the army and the French state the embarrassment of a retrial, or the admission that a "mistake" has been made. In his well-paced narrative, Harris captures the sights, sounds, smells and social mores of late 19th Paris brilliantly--especially the all-pervading stench of la merde.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable enough but a little pedestrian by Harris's former standards, 5 Feb 2014
By 
Laurence Paul (Ancient Kingdom of Northumbria) - See all my reviews
This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Hardcover)
I have enjoyed several Robert Harris books, especially Fatherland, and to be fair, Harris’s writing, especially his smooth and punchy use of dialogue, has improved considerably since earlier work. The actual ‘Dreyfus Affair’ was a complex, sordid and prejudicially-charged series of military, legal and social incidents which France at the time was keen to suppress. State paranoia, the conspiracy of France’s military elite to ensure Dreyfus was convicted at any cost, and the eventual intervention of famous writers and thinkers of the period made this impossible. An innocent Jew from Alsace-Lorraine, Captain Dreyfus, was grotesquely and unfairly incarcerated on Devil’s Island because of his alleged espionage on behalf of Germany and his treason against France. Additionally, his scrutinizing champion, Colonel Picquart, suffered expulsion from his beloved military career simply because he persisted in trying to demonstrate Dreyfus’s innocence. The political flux in late 19th and early 20th Century French history, coupled to France’s terror of German ambition and its latent-but-revealed hatred of the Hebrew race ought to have combined to produce a first-class Harris historical thriller but instead, with ‘An Officer And A Spy,’ we have little more than an ‘A Level’ school text, narrated to us through the eyes of Picquart. Rather strangely, the book did not engender much sympathy for Dreyfus, neither did it paint much more than a two dimensional picture of the main characters involved. The real feel of France at the time of ‘La Belle Époque’ seemed to be missing and eventually it all became a little pedestrian compared to Harris’s former standards – even the end of the ‘novel’ felt somewhat rushed. It’s a shame as Harris’s skills could have achieved much more with this subject and period. It wouldn’t stop me buying more Robert Harris in the future as I do believe he has and he can write really well, but not, I feel, on this occasion.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading even if you know what's coming, 19 Jun 2014
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I was familiar with the Dreyfus story so knew how roughly how this would end, but Robert Harris does an excellent job at maintaining the tension throughout the book. He also conveys the details of the hypocrisy in the army and anti-semitism that pervaded the affair, but showing the shades of grey and how people were culpable to different degrees.
The conclusion comes across in a piecemeal and slightly messy manner, but that is very much a reflection of how these things often wind up in real life. Overall a very good read.
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An Officer and a Spy
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris (Hardcover - 26 Sep 2013)
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