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151 of 159 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 9 months ago by D. P. Mankin

versus
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 22 hours ago by Douglas Clark


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151 of 159 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
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical fiction in one of its best editions, 21 Feb 2014
By 
Denis Vukosav - See all my reviews
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars J'accuse!, 20 Nov 2013
By 
FictionFan (Kirkintilloch, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Kindle Edition)
Based on the true story of Alfred Dreyfus, a French military officer convicted of spying for the Germans in the late 19th century, the book begins with Dreyfus' humiliation as he is stripped of his rank and military honours in front of his army colleagues and a baying, jeering public crowd. With Dreyfus sent off to Devil's Island and kept in almost total isolation, the matter was officially considered closed. However as suspicions began to emerge that he was not the spy after all, the army and members of the government began a cover-up that would eventually destroy reputations, wreck careers and even lives, and change the political landscape of France. This fictionalised account is based on the verifiable facts of the affair and, as far as I know, sticks pretty closely to them.

We are given the story as the first-person account of Major Georges Picquart. Having been the Minister of War's eyes and ears during the trial and Dreyfus' subsequent 'military degradation', Picquart is then appointed to the post of head of the 'Statistical Section' - a euphemism for the spy branch of the army. Convinced at first of Dreyfus' guilt, he becomes concerned when evidence comes to light that indicates a different source for the leaks to the Germans. On drawing this to his superiors' attention, he is ordered not to pursue the matter. However his conscience won't allow him to let the matter rest there and soon he is part of the 'Dreyfusards' - the informal group of artists, liberals and thinkers who are campaigning for the case to be re-opened.

This is a fascinating story in real life and Harris succeeds in making it just as interesting in a fictionalised form. The book is lengthy and allows him to examine the various different aspects of French society that made the case both so complex and so significant. At a time when France was still suffering the shame of losing Alsace-Lorraine to the Germans and with the fear of a future war never far from the thoughts of the politicians, Dreyfus, as a Jew and something of a misfit in the army, was the ideal scapegoat. But the real interest is not in the conviction, but in the conspiracy to cover up the mistakes of the original investigation, and the extreme lengths to which those in power were willing to go to ensure that the verdict of guilty would stand.

We get a clear picture of the status of the army and the generals' influence on the politicians. We see how both anti-German sentiment and anti-Semitism played their part in the affair, though I felt that Harris rather played down the former in order to somewhat over-emphasise the latter in his telling of the tale. Harris shows the underlying political divide in French society that evolved into Dreyfusard and anti-Dreyfusard movements - leaving the man himself as something of a pawn in the midst of a struggle that had grown well beyond the simple matter of his guilt or innocence. But Harris manages to humanise Dreyfus by letting the reader see some of the correspondence between him and his wife during his captivity and by telling us of the physical and mental hardships he was subjected to.

Well written and thought-provoking, my only real criticism of the book is that Harris has jumped on the fashionable bandwagon of using the present tense - a fashion I truly hope comes to an end fairly soon - and this reads even more clumsily because it's also a first-person account. I know authors think the present tense gives immediacy to a narrative, but it rarely does in actuality and, for me at least, didn't at all in this one. There's very little `action' and the tense doesn't suit a story that is stretched over more than a decade and is obviously being told retrospectively. However, Harris handles the device as well as most and better than many, and despite it the book is a very interesting and human account of this momentous event in French history. Although I was aware of the basic facts of the affair, the book gave me a much clearer idea of the personalities and politics involved, while, by concentrating on Picquart's story, Harris avoided the pitfalls of making it overly preachy or impersonal. And his account is detailed enough that the book would be equally enjoyable to someone who doesn't know about this episode - perhaps more so in fact since there would then be an element of suspense (which I have done my best not to spoil). Highly recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House.
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47 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Triumphant return to top form for Robert Harris, 26 Nov 2013
This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Kindle Edition)
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
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dreyfus Affair, 17 July 2014
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This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Kindle Edition)
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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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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This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Kindle Edition)
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb historical fiction, 17 Jun 2014
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This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Kindle Edition)
I've enjoyed Harris's books in the past, but none so much as this. The sense of time and place is vivid, and the subtly moving viewpoint of the protagonist engages from start to finish.

Whether you already know something of the Dreyfus Affair or not, this is a real treat; the last historical novel I enjoyed as much was Hilary Mantel's Place Of Greater Safety.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, exciting - and based on real life too!, 19 July 2014
By 
BookWorm "BookWorm" (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Paperback)
Another wonderful, gripping and intelligent thriller from the masterly Robert Harris. This one focusses on the Dreyfus affair, an 18th century scandal in France involving a Jewish army officer accused of spying amidst a conspiracy. It is narrated in the first person by Picquart, an ambitious army officer who plays a part in Dreyfus' downfall but later risks his career to exonerate the same man. It is a very readable and immediately engaging story which remains interesting throughout. Harris manages to explain the intricacies of the case in a way that is easy to follow and doesn't become dull.

The plot is fascinating, especially if like me you don't already know the story when you start reading. It's all the more extraordinary for being true. Whilst aspects of the account are fictionalised, it is largely based on fact and most of the characters were real people. Harris has a gift for making history come alive and taking the circuitous course of real events and moulding them into a well structured novel that retains a good pace. Picquart is a sympathetic and interesting narrator, and the other characters are well drawn.

It's not an overly emotional story - it's exciting and thrilling but not upsetting or tear-jerking. The main emotion it invoked for me was indignation and astonishment at the behaviour of the characters. The most frightening thing is that these are not villainous caricatures, they are all too human (they were of course actual people) and demonstrate how even average people can allow terrible things to happen. Picquart gives a reasonably balanced view, able to see the good in most of his enemies - he is scrupulously fair and honourable.

This is definitely one of Harris' best novels to date, and will appeal to readers who enjoy thrillers, spy novels, historical novels, and well written fiction in general. It combines the best elements of his other books - the careful historical recreation of his Roman novels and the excitement of his more modern thrillers. Harris has the rare skill of making both your heart race and your brain work. For that alone this novel is well worth reading.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not up to his usual standard., 21 July 2014
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This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Kindle Edition)
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 Riverting, 3 July 2014
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This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Kindle Edition)
I bought this to read on holiday and basically read it cover to cover before I got to my destination
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