National Book Awards Popular Fiction Book of the Year 2013
They lied to protect their country. He told the truth to save it. A gripping historical thriller from the bestselling author of FATHERLAND.
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.
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Many readers prize him as our supreme exponent of the “literary” thriller. His novels are not difficult – they are whizzing page-turners… They also combine masterly suspense and mystery with historical insight and political shrewdness. His latest novel is no exception: it is a cracking read from start to finish… It offers a bravura display of Harris’s fictional skills. The first is sureness of historical touch. In both general and specific terms the period comes alive… There is no need to wait for the film: it can scarcely be more exciting than the book. - Sunday Times
A compelling tale of power, cover-ups and idealism. - Telegraph
Harris is committed to the belief that you can get at a truth as a novelist that you can’t as an historian… and he does give us the look, sensations, sounds and smells as no historian could… it is informative, accomplished and highly enjoyable - Evening Standard
The Dreyfus Affair… has now been brilliantly retold by Robert Harris… This is a book about spies and their deceits and the unreasonable demands that are made of them by their hard-to-please political governors. It is 1895 with a strong undercurrent of 2003… The real subject then is espionage and the broader, mutually manipulative relationship between the intelligence “community” and the political class… Along the way, Harris gives us plenty of espionage tradecraft. The eavesdropping, the handwriting analysis, the forgery. - The Times
The story is a gift to any novelist fascinated by the murkier aspects of politics – and Robert Harris takes full advantage, serving up a perfect read for those who like their literary thrills to come with some immaculately researched history… the tension is cranked up further with every agonising twist. - Reader's Digest
Robert Harris who pulls out a surprise with each new novel, has turned to this political scandal which “came to obsess France and ultimately the entire world”… None of the characters is entirely fictional, promises the author’s note. Therein lies the only difficulty with this taut thriller, as the reader wonders how much is history and how much is Harris. - Daily Express
The story charges along at full throttle, in a vibrant account adorned with masterly detail - Metro
Immaculately researched but delivered with such a deft touch that it never feels like a history lesson…superlative. - Mail on Sunday
Harris lightly fictionalizes the historical narrative of the anti-semetic persecution of Alfred Dreyfus - brilliantly retold. - Times Saturday Review
Gripping from beginning to end - Sunday Times
'informative, accomplished and highly enjoyable. - Evening Standard
A master storyteller at the top of his game - Mail on Sunday
Superb . . . Harris demonstrates his unique ability to recreate historical events and turn them into spellbinding thriller . . . written with scalpel-like precision and elegance . . . fully justifies being called a masterpiece. - Daily Mail
An Officer and a Spy is written in elegant prose reminiscent of the 19th-century historical novel, but its form is a hybrid of the contemporary thriller, the spy novel and the courtroom drama. It is persuasive and engaging on all of these levels, while providing a unique and fresh reading of the Dreyfus Affair. It’s also timely, serving as a warning against religious bigotry and groupthink. - Irish Times
People who have read my fiction reviews in this paper will be familiar with my assertion that the glory of imaginative literature rests in its ability to make the reader think and feel at the same time. This marvellous novel does just that. It may well be the best book Robert Harris has yet written - and that’s saying something. - Scotsman
It is tantalising to speculate on what liberties an author has taken when fictionalising a true story but the facts of the Dreyfus Affair are so incredible that Harris has no need to embellish. He fashions an enthralling frame and lets the astonishing tale unfold. - Independent on Sunday
The choice of narrator is sure-footed. Georges Picquart makes a fascinatingly ambiguous figure around whom to anchor this tale of moral absolutes. - Literary Review
A compelling narrative. - Jewish Chronicle
A gripping tale, its shocking power heightened by Harris’s narrative skills. - Financial Times
Robert Harris is the master of the political thriller and his latest finds him in fine form. - Press Association
Both gripping thriller and Buchanesque adventure: its revelations impeccably paced and its original material used to poignant effect… An Officer and a Spy is carried throughout by the peerless characterisation of Picquart… But most of all it is the honest, implacable soldier’s dawning realisation that the institutions in which he has placed his faith are appallingly corrupt that has the most tenacious hold on the reader. It still has power to shock – and it leaves us in no doubt as to an old story’s continuing resonance. - Guardian
An event that obsessed France and the world is retold here, in forensic detail, with great clarity and humanity. - Country Life
Harris’s gift for breathing life into historical characters is on full display in this brilliant fictionalisation of L’affair Dreyfus. - Independent
Robert Harris is the author of eight bestselling novels: Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, Imperium, The Ghost, Lustrum and The Fear Index. Several of his books have been filmed, including The Ghost, which was directed by Roman Polanski. His work has been translated into thirty-seven languages. He lives in the village of Kintbury, West Berkshire, with his wife Gill Hornby.