Wednesday 19 October 2016

An Officer and a Spy

Finished October 19
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

This historical novel follows the Dreyfus affair from the viewpoint of Colonel Georges Picquart. As the affair begins Picquart is a professor at the school training officers and he is brought in unofficially as a watcher at the court. As he reports that the case looks to be failing, the government introduces a secret dossier of documents that "proves the guilt" of Dreyfuss that the defence has no access to. The case is thus decided without fair hearing. Shortly afterward Picquart is put in charge of intelligence. As he follows leads on possible espionage and tries to find a place with his staff, he never really fits in, and begins to mistrust the integrity of some staff members. As he looks deeper and gains access to the secret dossier of the Dreyfuss case, he finds that there has been a grand miscarriage of justice. At first he tries to work within the system, going to his superiors and laying out the evidence, but as it becomes clear that not only isn't this of interest to them, but that they will go to extreme measures to prevent him reopening the case, he finds he must go outside the army to get justice.
This is a tale of an officer, loyal to the army he has made a career in, and a man of integrity. He risks his own career and life, and when the army gets personal in its attack, he gets serious about digging in his heels to take the case to its final result.
The history is widely known, but Harris takes us inside the organization that made it, the army. He takes us inside the experience of a key player in the story, and he has definitely done his research on the facts, using newly available material to bring the story alive for the reader.
A fantastic read, that got me thinking about how little has changed from then to today in terms of government organizations hiding truths and facts for their own ends. In particular, the Snowden case, still unresolved, has elements in common with this.

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