An Offi­cer and a Spy

Robert Har­ris
  • Review
By – April 4, 2014

Robert Harris’s lat­est book, An Offi­cer and a Spy, is a fic­tion­al account of the Drey­fus Affair. It is a thrilling his­tor­i­cal nov­el that delves into the world of espi­onage, con­spir­a­cy, and cor­rup­tion sur­round­ing the per­se­cu­tion of an army offi­cer sole­ly because he was Jew­ish. Although most peo­ple know of this his­tor­i­cal trag­ic event, read­ers will be inter­est­ed to find out how Har­ris has the sto­ry unfold. The focus is not so much on Drey­fus as it is on Colonel Georges Picquart. 

The plot begins as Alfred Drey­fus, a Cap­tain in the French army, is parad­ed through­out the streets of Paris after being con­vict­ed of trea­son, and is impris­oned in the hell­hole of Devil’s Island. Among the wit­ness­es to Dreyfus’s humil­i­a­tion is Pic­quart, who had a hand in his con­vic­tion by car­ry­ing a secret doc­u­ment that sup­pos­ed­ly proved Drey­fus’s guilt. Because of his loy­al­ty to his supe­ri­ors dur­ing the tri­al, Pic­quart is pro­mot­ed to Colonel as he heads the coun­teres­pi­onage agency. While per­form­ing his duties, Pic­quart stum­bles upon infor­ma­tion that leads him to change his mind from con­sid­er­ing Drey­fus guilty to now believ­ing in his inno­cence. He is com­pelled to ques­tion not only the case against Drey­fus but also his most deeply held beliefs about his coun­try and about him­self, espe­cial­ly since Drey­fus was con­vict­ed on the basis of secret evi­dence, in a closed court, in which nei­ther Drey­fus nor his lawyer was able to view the evidence.

Real­iz­ing that the wrong man was con­vict­ed of espi­onage, the Colonel goes on a quest to find jus­tice. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the con­spir­a­tors includ­ed a high lev­el of senior offi­cers, includ­ing the Min­is­ter of War, the Chief of the Gen­er­al Staff, the for­mer head of Mil­i­tary Intel­li­gence, and the Com­man­der of the Fourth Army. A pow­er­ful quote in the book explains Picquart’s dilem­ma, So this is what the Army of France has sunk to. Either they are the great­est fools in Europe or the great­est vil­lains: for the sake of my coun­try I am not sure which is worse. But some instinct for self-preser­va­tion warns me not to fight them now.” The author is able to show the sus­pense and mys­tery involved as Pic­quart is accused of being a co-con­spir­a­tor, tried for trea­son, and impris­oned. The cov­er-up became even deep­er, stranger, and more crim­i­nal­ly psychotic.

An Offi­cer and a Spy is a riv­et­ing account of the Drey­fus Affair from the per­spec­tive of the per­son who broke the case wide open, Pic­quart. It is a legal thriller, an espi­onage sto­ry, and a crime nov­el all rolled into one. The plot con­trasts the dif­fer­ent human char­ac­ter­is­tics of deceit, intim­i­da­tion, ruth­less­ness, and anti-Semi­tism. Read­ers inter­est­ed in a cap­ti­vat­ing book that involves black­mail, espi­onage, cor­rup­tion, mur­der, and injus­tice will enjoy this novel.

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Find Elise Coop­er’s inter­view with Robert Har­ris here.

Elise Coop­er lives in Los Ange­les and has writ­ten numer­ous nation­al secu­ri­ty arti­cles sup­port­ing Israel. She writes book reviews and Q and A’s for many dif­fer­ent out­lets includ­ing the Mil­i­tary Press. She has had the plea­sure to inter­view best­selling authors from many dif­fer­ent genres.

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