An Officer and a Spy

Robert Harris’s million-selling alternative history first novel Fatherland (1992) has as its setting a world where Germany has won World War II. Publication enabled Harris to become a full-time novelist. HBO made a film based on the novel in 1994. Harris stated that the proceeds from the book enabled him to buy a house in the country, where he still lives. His second novel Enigma (1995) portrayed the breaking of the German Enigma code during World War II. It too became a film, with Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet starring and with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard. Archangel (1998) was another international best seller. In 2005 the BBC made its story into a mini-series starring Daniel Craig. The summary of his latest, 2013, work is as follows. It’s January 1895. On a freezing morning 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 baying ‘Death to the Jew!’ The officer is rewarded with promotion: Picquart is made the French army’s youngest colonel and put in command of ‘the Statistical Section’ – the shadowy intelligence unit that tracked down Dreyfus. The spy, meanwhile, is given a punishment of medieval cruelty: Dreyfus is shipped off to a lifetime of solitary confinement on Devil’s Island – unable to speak to anyone, not even his guards, his case seems closed forever. But gradually Picquart comes to believe there is something rotten at the heart of the Statistical Section. When he discovers another German spy operating on French soil, his superiors are oddly reluctant to pursue it. Despite official warnings, Picquart persists, and soon the officer and the spy are in the same predicament. Narrated by Picquart,  An Officer and a Spy is a compelling recreation of a scandal that became the most famous miscarriage of justice in history. Compelling, too, are the echoes for our modern world: an intelligence agency gone rogue, justice corrupted in the name of national security, a newspaper witch-hunt of a persecuted minority, and the age-old instinct of those in power to cover-up their crimes. Harris is a most engaging writer. Do give him a chance.

496 pages in Hutchinson hardback edition


ISBN 978-0091944551


Robert Harris

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