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From the Publisher
The year is 1897 and France stands at the threshold of the tumultuous 20th century. Still smarting from the losses of the Franco-Prussian war, the army sees traitors under every bed while the government fears both the Germans and the anarchists. Socialists and monarchists, Republicans and conservatives argue bitterly over the future of the nation while a new mass media has emerged with rival political newspapers to fan the flames of conflict.
Cheerfully oblivious to the partisan turmoil is bourgeois lawyer François Dubon. Once a bit of a radical himself, he has artfully constructed a well-ordered existence running a genteel law firm, inherited from his father. He is married to Geneviève, an aristocratic wife from a celebrated military family, with whom he shares a young son and a comfortable, if passionless, marriage. For passion, he has his generous mistress Madeleine, who expects his company promptly at five o’clock daily and is prettily piqued if he is late. Then it’s home to oblige his wife with his presence at dinner and at their myriad social engagements. It is a good life.
But Dubon’s complacent existence is shattered when a mysterious widow arrives at his office. The beguiling Madame Duhamel entreats him to save a dear friend’s innocent husband, an army captain by the name of Dreyfus who has been convicted as a spy. The widow’s charms awaken his long-dormant radical streak, and Dubon agrees.
Needing evidence to clear Dreyfus, Dubon pays a visit to the Statistical Section, a secretive bureau that he discovers is the seat of French espionage. Wearing his brother-in-law’s military uniform in the hopes of blending in, Dubon gets more than he bargained for when mistaken for a temporary clerk. He soon finds himself spying on the spies, tantalizingly close to the documents that he’s increasingly certain were forged to incriminate Dreyfus.
Dubon begins to live a double life in order to crack this case, employing his affable demeanour to masquerade as a military intelligence officer by day, while by night he still frequents the high-society parties where the chattering class is much preoccupied with the Dreyfus Affair. The trouble is, Dubon can no longer avert his gaze from the ugliness that lurks beneath French society’s veneer of civility. He comes to realize, at some personal jeopardy, that nobody is quite as they seem when power is at stake.
The real-life Dreyfus affair was a seismic event in French history, exposing latent tyranny within its government and fierce anti-Semitism at all levels of society. With elegance, humour and keen perception, Kate Taylor brilliantly mines this rich source material in her page-turning historical spy novel, demonstrating how brittle a society’s standards of justice and civility can be, in times of national panic.
What’s Behind A Man in Uniform
By Kate Taylor
Before every political scandal acquired the suffix “Gate,” there were Affairs. The Profumo Affair. The Gouzenko Affair. The Dreyfus Affair. When I was a child these tales of spies and showgirls sounded more interesting than the budgets and battles taught in history class, although I hadn’t a clue what the exotically named events really involved. At university, I did study the Dreyfus Affair and found the actual story of the French army captain wrongfully accused of spying for the Germans as intriguing as the shadowy outline. It featured a detective story worthy of le Carré and an ironic retort to the “great men” theory of history: the innocent Dreyfus, so shamelessly persecuted by a government that would not admit it had the wrong man, was an unremarkable soldier who remade French society despite himself.
I investigated the affair further when I was writing my first novel, Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen, because the debate over his guilt or innocence divided the family of novelist Marcel Proust just as it so bitterly divided France. Then I had the idea that the Dreyfus Affair might form the spine of a second novel, a mystery story, not a whodunit so much as how-do-you-prove-he-didn’t-do-it. Its action would revolve around the paper chase that ultimately absolved the imprisoned Dreyfus; its fictional hero would be an equally unremarkable man, a complacent lawyer transformed by the pursuit of justice.
At first, I thought this was a story within a story; I also wanted to a write a 20th-century novel about a professor and a student who were attempting to write a mystery themselves. The idea was that my novel would alternate between the Dreyfus story and a modern love story, but as I began to plan this two-headed monster, I realized the historical mystery had to be able to stand on its own, as engrossing as any thriller. So, I began to write the novel that would become A Man in Uniform and gradually the modern frame in which I had planned to display it fell away as I became engrossed in the mindbending intricacies of plotting a genuine detective story.
I used an old-fashioned system – file cards – to keep track of my different plot lines, which had burgeoned from five to seven by the end of my third draft. Perhaps the biggest addition was made in the second draft when, realizing the beginning was moving too slowly, I decided a dead body had better appear by the end of Chapter 2. The only problem was that I had no idea who the body belonged to nor why it was dead!
Working on the book was sometimes a torturous process, and during the years I was writing A Man in Uniform, stories began to appear in the newspapers about the plight of terrorism suspects held without charges at Guantanamo or deported to countries that practise torture. I had not intended to write anything resembling a political novel, but the contemporary resonances became stronger and stronger as I wrote. The lessons in human rights and political responsibility that the Dreyfus Affair can still teach proved inescapable.
But most of all, writing A Man in Uniform was great fun as I juggled my plot lines and my history books. Now I eagerly anticipate leaving my computer and getting out to meet booksellers and readers.
I hope you enjoy reading A Man in Uniform.