An Officer and a Spy

The first thing you’ll want to do when you finish reading this great thriller is go looking for more information about the Dreyfus Affair. Which is a little strange, because this book is all about the Dreyfus Affair (when an innocent French army officer was railroaded in 1894 for selling army secrets to the Germans, while the real traitor was allowed to remain free and stay in the army).

The book starts with Dreyfus being sent to prison, then follows the narrator’s appointment as head of the army’s intelligence section. Then, and this is what I love about it, in the course of his work, he discovers the identity of the real traitor and begins to take steps to defend the innocent Dreyfus. At which point, all the force of the establishment descends upon him in an attempt to shut him up.

It’s the steady accumulation of detail, combined with equally meticulous descriptions of the narrator’s actions that makes this book so hypnotic. It’s not a read-in-a-day thriller, but it’s so absorbing that you keep wanting to get back to it to find out what’s going to happen next. And if a quick glance at Wikipedia is an indication, what happens next isn’t just true, but astounding in its mendacity and vindictiveness.

What you won’t find, though, is much analysis of the whole business. You’ll know what did happen, but you won’t really know why. And that’s when you’ll go looking for more books about the Dreyfus Affair, to understand how it could all have occurred in the first place.

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