Honor and deception accompany ‘A Man in Uniform’
“A Man in Uniform” (Crown, $25), by Kate Taylor
Monday, January 17, 2011
Author Kate Taylor’s portrait of honor and deception in turn-of-the-century Paris is alluring and suspenseful, an even greater testament to her skills as a writer when one considers that she draws her story from France’s most notorious political scandal.
The outcome of the Dreyfus Affair has been dramatized in plays and films, including the Oscar-winning “The Life of Emile Zola” in 1937. Taylor, though, envisions the struggle to free an innocent man as a trigger for a French attorney to reconsider his own values.
Lawyer Francois Dubon is comfortable in mid-life — and no wonder. He enjoys a successful if boring practice, a dutiful wife and child, social prominence and a mistress he visits nearly every afternoon on his way home from the office. What he lacks is the moral conviction that had invigorated his life as a young man.
Shaking up his world is a widow, Madame Duhamel. A friend of the Dreyfus family — or so she claims — she beseeches Dubon to take on an appeal of the court-martial that has condemned French army officer Alfred Dreyfus to Devil’s Island for espionage and treason. Her confidence that he can find the real spy beguiles Dubon as much as her beauty and manner.
Drawn deeper into the mystery — is the Jewish army captain guilty after all or a victim of lies, indifference and anti-Semitism? — Dubon must decide whether to risk all that he has to join the fight for Dreyfus’ freedom. He begins to realize that truth is not as valued as reputation and appearance in Belle Epoque France.
The fate of Dreyfus is a historical fact, a question easily answered by a Google search. “A Man in Uniform” provides twists and turns fitting for a cozy mystery with an interesting historical setting. The charm of Taylor’s novel lies in her seemingly effortless prose and plotting — and her ability to make room for touches of subtle humor.