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Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb Thriller, A Masterpiece of Historical Fiction, 19 May 2014
This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Paperback)
This is a superb book, referred to by a press review on the cover as a masterpiece, and this is no overstatement. Robert Harris has written the best book on the Dreyfus Affair that has been published in many years despite it being a work of fiction by virtue of its invented conversation and some small dramatical creations. If you want to effortlessly learn all about this famous miscarriage of French military justice in 1895 then dispense with the non-fiction works of the last twenty years and read this book. Harris has himself indicated the extensive research he undertook for this book and the attention to characterisation and detail, and his close tracking of the facts of the case, provide a marvellous reward for his readers.
The book is narrated by the key character Colonel Picquart who was assigned to the Statistical Section of the French Army General Staff, this section designation being a cover for what we would now call ‘Intelligence’. It is this posting that gives Picquart access to documents related to the recent ‘degradation’ of Major Dreyfus on a charge of treason, that Picquart has just recently witnessed on behalf of the Minister of War, General Mercier, and so the story begins. It is not my intention to relate the story in any way in this review, that is best left to Harris, but it must be said that the graphic style allows the reader to sit in the meetings that took place, to walk the corridors of the Ministry of War, the Palais Justice and all the other key Parisian locations of the action and to visualise and remember the dozen or so very strong characters central to this tragic plot. Harris is a master of his craft and this slowly unfolding story of official obfuscation and mendacity has all the attributes of any great thriller despite the fact that we know the outcome. (And we might say, some echoes of more recent official attempts to conceal unhelpful facts from the public.) Finally, Harris reveals that Alfred Dreyfus was not a particularly attractive person which just adds that piquancy to the story.
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