An Officer and a Spy.
An Officer and a Spy
1745 Broadway, NY, NY 10019
9780345809853, $15.95, 448 pp, www.amazon.com
This fictionalized chronology of L'Affaire Dreyfus describes one of the most appalling episodes in French history. It is told in the first person by Major (later Lt. Colonel) Georges Picquart, who played a minor role in the arrest of Captain Alfred Dreyfus for espionage and treason. Picquart acted as a Judas goat in bringing Dreyfus to his arrest and then served as the Minister of War's eyes and ears at his ensuing trial and public disgrace.
As a reward, Picquart was promoted and placed as the head of a secret spy agency where he ultimately learned of various discrepancies in the "evidence" which convicted Dreyfus before an army court martial. After initially believing in Dreyfus' guilt, he then became convinced of his innocence and spent years, much to his misfortune, attempting to free the convict and clear his name, even himself ending up in prison and being forced out of his beloved army.
The role of the establishment, the generals, the lies and cover-ups even after the truth is known is related in fine detail, as is the atmosphere of anti-Semitism prevalent in France which colored much of the Dreyfus case, since he, of course, was a Jew. The whole sordid affair followed soon after the French defeat in the Prussian French war and the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, and was a forerunner of the First and Second World Wars. The author's diligent research and fluid language prevail in a gripping recount of a well-known story, and is told with much poignancy, in an understated tone that makes history come alive.
Highly recommended. (And it just won the Crime Writers' Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for the Best Thriller of the Year!)