Culture Street

Books

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

On November 11, 2013

By Sophia Whitfield

Robert Harris is the author of eight bestselling novels including Fatherland. Several of his books have been filmed, most recently The Ghost, which was directed by Roman Polanski. The Ghost Writer (2010) starred Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan.

Harris has made a name for himself as an adept writer of historical fiction with a focus on crime. In An Officer and a Spy Harris takes on one of the biggest political scandals in French history.

In January 1895 in the heart of Paris, an army officer, Georges Picquart, witnesses a convicted spy, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, being publicly humiliated in front of twenty thousand spectators yelling ‘Death to the Jew!'.  For his sins Dreyfus is shipped off to Devil’s Island where he is kept in total isolation, unable to even communicate with his guards. His case is closed.

The unit that tracked and convicted Dreyfus is rewarded for their efforts and Picquart is appointed the youngest colonel of the ‘Statistical Section’. He begins his job assured of the criminality of Dreyfus, but soon cracks begin to appear in the investigation. As Picquart delves deeper into the details surrounding Dreyfus’s arrest he becomes aware of another traitor amidst his staff. An inside clique appears that Picquart finds himself alienated from as the military come together in an attempt to protect one another. The more Picquart reveals the more ostracised he becomes

Harris details a highly regarded military trying desperately to defend itself from previous misdeeds. It is a compelling story, strange and corrupt with scapegoats taking the fall for those with robust connections. The newspapers are out for blood and the military keen to cover up the terrible miscarriage of justice that placed Dreyfus in solitary confinement.

Narrated by Picquart, An Officer and a Spy recreates one of the most compelling scandals in French history.  It is a fascinating, brilliantly executed by Harris.

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