|An Officer and a Spy|
We meet Major Georges Picquart on 5 January 1895, when Alfred Dreyfus is publicly stripped of his insignia before being shipped off to Devil's Island in the south Caribbean. Shortly thereafter, Picquart is promoted to colonel and placed at the head of the Statistical Section. The Statistical Section is the French army's intelligence division and Picquart is reluctant to become a spy. The position means reading other men's mail and stealing their trash. The section is used to operating fast and loose, as Picquart soon discovers. His reforms are greeted with trepidation and wariness on the part of the officers already there. The staff are willing to put up with their new boss until new intelligence is revealed that there is still a spy in the French army.
|Alfred Dreyfus' hut on Devil's Island|
The last third of An Officer and a Spy are a tense legal thriller. I didn't cheat and look at Wikipedia once as the army and the lawyers and the spies fought each other in court. Actual history lets Harris down a bit by cheating him out of a definitive ending. But then, real life is never as tidy as fiction.
Not only does Harris revive an incredible and relevant story in An Officer and a Spy, but his tale of turn of the century spycraft fascinated me. It's incredible what Picquart and the other members of the Statistical Section were able to accomplish before electronic surveillance and computer hacking and encryption. It's such a different shadow world than the one I learned about in Le Carré and Forsyth and the rest of the genre. While the book starts slowly, I was completely riveted by the halfway point.