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on 11 April 2017
An Officer and a Spy, was a slow burn for me. It took me quite a while to get into. But once I did, it was a gripping tale of the legendary Alfred Dreyfus affair. Harris will have you screaming with indignation at the injustices involved. Afterwards, you'll close the book and find yourself wondering whether such outrageous injustice could still persist today.
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on 17 September 2017
There is little I can add to the plaudits already heaped upon Robert Harris. It is simply a compulsive read. The story of the Dreyfus affair and its effect upon not only French public opinion but also that of Europe and beyond. Also its ramifications on the First World War - and possibly World War 2 should not be underestimated. It is a very complex story and it is a tribute to Robert Harris that he has retained the historical accuracy of the affair and present it as a novel. His research is painstaking and I am personally amazed that he has managed to retain the tension throughout what is a lengthy book. 'An Officer and A Spy' grips the reader from the first to the last page - and it has encouraged me to delve deeper into this dreadful chapter of French history. Alfred Dreyfus - a dedicated artillery Captain and victim of militant anti-Semitism that followed the Franco-Prussian war who was wrongly convicted of spying for the German military and incarcerated on Devil's Island - only to be eventually pardoned and re-instated as an Army officer and who saw service in World War 1. A truly magnificent book - don't miss it!
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on 20 May 2017
Set in the 1890's, the novel is about the Dreyfus scandal and an army officer who is against his will appointed to be head of a spying organisation and who finds out the truth behind the scandal. However, it puts him in direct conflict with his political and military superiors and things go downhill from there - but as always the ending is not what you would expect. Another excellent read.
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on 29 September 2015
This book was absolutely amazing. I found I couldn't put this book down at all. I actually wanted to read a light book while I was on vacation with my husband, but I opened this and I couldn't stop. I didn't find it a difficult read but it does take you some time to get through it simply because you're trying to concentrate. You may end up trying to learn more about the characters later on Wikipedia.

I started this without knowing anything about the Dreyfus Affair. I actually had not even heard of it (I did not grow up in Europe), so if you don't know anything about it, that's fine. It's not a problem at all. Just don't go on Wikipedia while you're reading it, so it doesn't spoil it for you.

I've read one other Robert Harris book and that was Fatherland. I thought Fatherland was good, but I found this a lot more enriching and a lot better. I was more compelled to read every other page in this book.

I would honestly recommend this book to anyone with even a slight interest in history.
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on 8 April 2018
A real rip roaring page-turner. Robert Harris has done a remarkable job yet again in bringing the past back to life. Through thoroughly executed research, the reader is taken on ride through the all the intracacies and the twists and turns of the Dreyfus affair as seen through the eyes of the main protagonist General Picquart.

The charactrisation of the different characters, ranging from those on the French General Staff to the seedy low-lifes mixed up in the plot, is brilliantly executed as are the descriptions of the environs in and around Paris.

I cannot recommend this historical crime novel more highly and let's hope there are plenty more to come from Mr Harris.
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on 4 April 2015
I've enjoyed several of Robert Harris' historical thrillers and 'An Officer and a Spy' was no exception. His stories take place over a wide range of space, time and subject: this one is fin de siècle France and the Dreyfus affair.
I suppose that most people will have heard of this major miscarriage of justice. I had a vague idea that Alfred Dreyfus had been wrongly accused of something and sent to Devils Island, a penal colony in South America, but beyond that I knew little. I now know a lot more. As a story of amorality, corruption and sheer wickedness it takes some beating. It is also a story of the power of the press and public opinion and seems very modern for that reason.
The central character is Georges Picquart, head of the French counter-espionage (called the Statistical Section). He is present when Dreyfus is thrown out of the army, in which he was an officer, for allegedly selling secrets to the Germans. Later, in his counter-spy role, Picquart discovers that Dreyfus was innocent and another man was the traitor. He gathers evidence and tries to present it to his superiors. But they are at first not interested and later actively hostile. Picquart has stumbled on corruption and cover-up at the heart of government and suffers for his attempts to put things right.
Although there is little actual violence there is no doubt that Picquart is in increasing danger as he refuses shut up and go away.
This is fiction, not history, but it seems to be a fairly accurate description of what happened. Picquart is an interesting character and the tumult he brings into being is well described.
I would recommend this to anyone interested in the history and politics of the period, or who wants an exciting and thought-provoking read.
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on 2 March 2015
An Officer and a Spy
by Robert Harris
If I had looked to see what his book, An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris, was about I probably would not have read it, which would have been my loss. I simply saw the author's name and decided that was enough.
I like novels set in interesting historical periods but I always say ' No, thanks, I know the ending,' when the central character is someone famous.
I do not read novelisations of the lives of Henry VIII, or Hitler, or Marie Antoinette.... If they crop up briefly in a story set in their time, fine, but if I wanted to read about their lives I would choose a serious biography.
So if someone had told me this was about the Dreyfus affair,  I might well have said, 'I know the ending,' and missed a good book!
The central character is not actually Dreyfus, but Colonel Georges Picquart, the narrator of the story. At first a believer in the fiction that Dreyfus was a spy, he despised him and had little sympathy for his fate. But, as the evidence grew, that he was not only innocent, but that important people knew and were covering up the fact, it became impossible to ignore the injustice.
He began to agitate, at great risk to himself for his release, from incarceration under the most brutal conditions on Devil's island, or at least a fair and open retrial.
The characters live, on the page. The atmosphere is finely drawn and gripping. The theme of skulduggery in high places, cover ups and political intrigue, threats and intimidation is chillingly familiar.
I found the book engaged my interest from cover to cover. It is a memorable read.
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VINE VOICEon 28 January 2015
After the dross of The Ghost and The Fear Index, Robert Harris has written a book worthy of his talents, and worthy of our time as readers. An Officer And A Spy is much more the kind of book that an intelligent, politically astute writer like Harris should be producing more consistently. It is, perhaps, even better than his debut work Fatherland.

Harris unpicks the intricacies of the Alfred Dreyfus affair through the medium of a densely packed novel told in the present tense. As a narrative style alone that's quite brave, as it can shut down storytelling options, but it works impressively here, as the central character - an army officer charged with working in the intelligence service - discovers something of a cover-up that has sent Dreyfus to spend his days on Devil's Island, having been charged with passing secrets to the Germans and as a result accused of treason and publicly shamed.

The Dreyfus affair is examined afresh in what becomes a compelling piece of storytelling. Harris impressively brings in a huge amount of detail, but that never gets in the way of a fast-paced - but pretty long - story. Only right towards the end does it feel as if some editing and pruning would have enhanced the finale, but overall it works a treat.

There is a sense here that Harris has laboured with care and attention on this piece of work; qualities sadly missing from some of his more recent output. Such has been the disappointment with preceding novels that I almost gave this one a miss. Thankfully I didn't, as the book is excellent, and let's hope that Harris has discovered his mojo again for whaetver he comes up with next. An impressive, rewarding read.
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on 18 November 2013
After the horrendous Fear Index I was a little nervous about returning to a Robert Harris novel (what was he thinking?) but I’m glad I did. With this book Harris is back at the top of his game. I followed the advice of other reviewers and didn’t google the events or characters portrayed, and I would recommend that approach. Letting Harris tell the story his own way avoids thoughts such as “when is he going to get to such and such” or “so and so didn’t really say that”. This is, after all, a novel first and a work of history second. Some poetic licence is to be expected. However, Harris appears to be sufficiently faithful to the historical events he is portraying.

The book tells the story of the campaign to free Alfred Dreyfuss, an army officer who in 1894 was wrongly convicted of spying for the Germans . The story is told through the eyes of Colonel Georges Picquart who is appointed head of the Statistical Section, the French army’s intelligence gathering unit in Paris. Soon after his appointment he discovers the existence of another spy, Major Esterhazy, then realises that this spy was the one who committed the acts that Dreyfuss was accused of. This all happens in the early part of the book and the remainder is the story of the campaign to free Dreyfuss from his prison on Devils Island. One would think it would be an easy matter given the new evidence. One would be wrong.

If this was a work of pure fiction it might be hard to believe that the French Army could act in the manner that it does. It might make the book lack credibility. The fact that the officers involved really did behave that way is what makes this novel so fascinating. Throughout the story one wonders at the fact that the High Command would rather see an innocent man die alone on a rock than admit that there had been mistakes in the case against him. One also wonders whether it could happen in Britain today and the words Dodgy Dossier and Dr David Kelly keep springing to my mind.

So why only four stars? Well, the book is rather long and does flag a bit in one or two places. Some parts, such as the lengthy description of the Tsar of Russia’s visit to Paris and the social life of an army officer weren’t necessary, at least in so much detail. However, overall it is a very good read and tells me more about the Dreyfuss affair than Wikipedia could and in a more entertaining manner.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 10 November 2013
How do you write a thriller when the outcome is already well known? That's the challenge the most recent televised adaptation of Sherlock Holmes managed brilliantly in its last series with the episode reimagining Sherlock Holmes's plunge at the Reichenbach Falls. It's a challenge that Robert Harris also rises to in his fictional adaptation of the Alfred Dreyfus scandal.

Harris is helped a little by the fact that someone knowing the overall outlines of the case is still likely to be surprised by one or two of the genuine twists along the way. Even so, it is an impressive reflection of his ability to summon up such a convincing picture of life in late 19th and early 20th century France that the book is so gripping. It is a world in which great social and political pressures were played out in a high profile and controversial case of alleged espionage as the Jewish French army captain, Alfred Dreyfus, was accused of spying for Germany. (This case also saw the word 'intellectuals' coined as a noun, to describe the literary and other highly educated figures who publicly backed Dreyfus.)

Many other reviews have commented that it is hard to see where the join between fiction and reality is in the book, for it sticks closely to what is known and weaves in very tightly the extra fictional parts which let Harris, in his words "dramatise [and] invent many personal details".

The book sticks closely to perspective of George Picquart, a major player in the scandal and so a good vantage point from which to view it. This gives the reader a compelling account of some of the conspiracy's participants, along with the how and the why of the way they get sucked into a bigger and bigger conspiracy in an effort to win the day.

It also means that Alfred Dreyfus himself is a somewhat remote figure during the book and - perhaps the book's one real flaw - that the reader also does not get much to explain why so many outside the conspiracy believed in its truthfulness so strongly for so long despite the contrary evidence.

Even so, it is a great read about a still fascinating major scandal.
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