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An Officer and a Spy

Robert Harris

IN THE HUNT FOR A SPY, HE EXPOSED A CONSPIRACY. The winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2014, this is a gripping historical thriller from Robert Harris – Sunday Times bestselling author of Fatherland and The Ghost.

Paris, 1895: an army officer, Georges Picquart, watches a convicted spy, Alfred Dreyfus, being publicly humiliated in front of a baying crowd.

Dreyfus is exiled for life to Devil's Island; Picquart is promoted to run the intelligence unit that tracked him down.

But when Picquart discovers that secrets are still being handed over to the Germans, he is drawn into a dangerous labyrinth of deceit and corruption that threatens not just his honour but his life...

Say “The Dreyfus Affair” and many think of the eponymous Alfred Dreyfus and the French novelist Emile Zola but this story, within its large cast, focusses on one Georges Picquart, whistle-blower extraordinaire.


Officer Picquart once taught Dreyfus and on duty at the time he was convicted of being a spy. But Picquart was never close to him, in fact he has no real reason not to think the man guilty. There’s no emotional attachment between the two and they are rarely on the page together. It is this lack of a connection that makes Picquart’s journey all the more compelling.


“What does it matter to you,” demanded Gonse, “if one Jew stays on Devil’s Island?”


Put in charge of a small intelligence unit known as the Statistical Section - a kind of late 19th century French MI5 – Picquart slowly suspects, and then discovers, that Dreyfus is innocent. What’s more, whilst Dreyfus is being shackled and isolated on Devil’s Island the real spy, Esterhazy, is freely going about his dangerous business, and has applied for a job in the general staff where he'd have better access to information of value to Germany. 


Picquart has a decision to make, should he whistle-blow? In doing so he will risk his career, maybe even his life. After collecting evidence against Esterhazy, Picquart brings the injustice to the attention of his superiors. It’s soon clear that there is a major cover up. Dreyfus, a wealthy Jew, is hated by thousands of nationals. His acquittal would damage the army and France at a sensitive time. Picquart, like Dreyfus, is loyal to the army but a man of principle.


The individual against the establishment takes up half the book and culminates in Picquart being sent to French Tunisia and worse. But he returns to Paris where help awaits. With truth on his side, support from a friend/lawyer and the pen of Zola (plus others) the establishment is taken on in one of history’s most famous trials. The second half is powerful and made all the more compelling for its truth.



About Robert Harris:

Robert Harris is the author of Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, Imperium and The Ghost.

Born in Nottingham in 1957 he later graduated from Cambridge University. Harris has worked as a reporter on the BBC's Newsnight and Panorama programmes, before becoming Political Editor of the Observer in 1987, and then a columnist on the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph. In 2003 he was named Columnist of the Year in the British Press Awards. He lives near Hungerford in Berkshire with his wife and their four children.

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