An Officer and a Spy: Book summary and reviews of An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

An Officer and a Spy

By Robert Harris

An Officer and a Spy
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2014,
    448 pages.

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Book Summary

Robert Harris returns to the thrilling historical fiction he has so brilliantly made his own. This is the story of the infamous Dreyfus affair told as a chillingly dark, hard-edged novel of conspiracy and espionage.

Paris in 1895. Alfred Dreyfus, a young Jewish officer, has just been convicted of treason, sentenced to life imprisonment at Devil's Island, and stripped of his rank in front of a baying crowd of twenty-thousand. Among the witnesses to his humiliation is Georges Picquart, the ambitious, intellectual, recently promoted head of the counterespionage agency that "proved" Dreyfus had passed secrets to the Germans. At first, Picquart firmly believes in Dreyfus's guilt. But it is not long after Dreyfus is delivered to his desolate prison that Picquart stumbles on information that leads him to suspect that there is still a spy at large in the French military. As evidence of the most malignant deceit mounts and spirals inexorably toward the uppermost levels of government, Picquart is compelled to question not only the case against Dreyfus but also his most deeply held beliefs about his country, and about himself.

Bringing to life the scandal that mesmerized the world at the turn of the twentieth century, Robert Harris tells a tale of uncanny timeliness - a witch hunt, secret tribunals, out-of-control intelligence agencies, the fate of a whistle-blower - richly dramatized with the singular storytelling mastery that has marked all of his internationally best-selling novels.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Harris perfectly captures the rampant anti-Semitism that led to Dreyfus's scapegoating, and effectively uses the present tense to lend intimacy to the narrative." - Publishers Weekly

"Espionage, counterespionage, a scandalous trial, a coverup and a man who tries to do right make this a complex and alluring thriller. " - Kirkus

"This is an atmospheric and tense historical thriller, with a flawed but honorable protagonist fighting against entrenched complacence and bigotry." - Library Journal

"Against the odds, the result is both gripping thriller and Buchan-esque adventure: its revelations impeccably paced and its original material used to poignant effect (in particular, Dreyfus's own writings, evoking the prisoner as the ineradicable ghostly conscience of a degraded civilisation)." - The Guardian (UK)

"For the most part it is a gripping read, except for the period where Picquart is exiled from Paris, which tends to sag." - The Independent (UK)

"For a long time now, Harris has looked like the heir to John Le Carre, the popular yarn spinner with claims to permanence. In An Officer and a Spy he excels himself. Has this hack of highbrow penny dreadfuls actually tiptoed into the temple of art?" - The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

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Author Information

Robert Harris Author Biography

Robert Harris, the son of a printer, was brought up in Nottingham, England. He has been a television correspondent with the BBC and a newspaper columnist for the London Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph. His novels have sold more than ten million copies and been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Berkshire, England, with his wife and four children.

He got started as a writer of books when he won a contract to write a biography of John le Carré; but le Carré said the book could not be published until his death, so Harris started roughing out a novel exploring what would have happened if the Nazis had won the war.

He sent a few chapters to his American agent and didn't hear from him for two weeks. Then a call came through to tell him that ...

... Full Biography

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