A Man in Uniform

A Man in Uniform

Book - 2010
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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 .
Publisher: [Toronto] : Doubleday Canada, c2010.
ISBN: 9780385667999
Branch Call Number: TAYLO
Characteristics: 412 p. ; 22 cm.


From Library Staff

List - Summer Reading 2012
OttawaReads Jun 04, 2012

At the request of a mysterious widow, Parisian lawyer François Dubon agrees to prove the innocence of her friend, Dreyfus, an army captain convicted of spying in 19th century Paris.

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Aug 11, 2017

A Man In Uniform by Kate Taylor is an engrossing period piece crime novel that has an absorbing story of spies, murder, and deceit associated with the Captain Alfred Dreyfus affair in Paris in the late 1800’s. Fictional characters realistically portrayed for that time come together to create a fascinating story surrounding a real event. It took me a couple of chapters to get into the flow of the book, but once the pace picked up I was hooked and finished the novel fairly quickly as it is an easy read. Yes there are some contrivances in the novel but entertaining nonetheless! I found this book by accident. I was reading a review of “Dunkirk” written by Kate Taylor and noticed she was an author so I decided to pick up her book and was pleasantly surprised. This novel could have easily been made into a “Film Noir” in the 40’s and with the right cast and director along with a good adaptation would have rivaled “Casa Blanca or the Maltese Falcon,” (Which had some of their own contrivances as well and yet still very entertaining). A nice story that is mostly plausible.

Jul 24, 2012

Light historical fiction about the Dreyfus affair in France, which I found refreshing after reading so many heavy books. So it is good for light summer reading. At some points the story is a bit stretched and unbelievable, but generally it is a good read. If only the Dreyfus affair had gone this way.

Jun 12, 2011

Rather dull and predictable with some parts that completely defy believability. Don't recommend.

Aug 17, 2010

Great review in the Chatelaine issue of August 2010.


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May 04, 2011

A mysterious and very beautiful female client requests Parisian attorney, Francois Dubon, to take on a politically sensitive legal issue for her. Francois becomes so engrossed with the new client and the “Dreyfus Affair”, the court martial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus in 1894, that he ignores his marriage, his mistress and his other clients. Dubon impersonates a military clerk in the counter- espionage department and tries to get closer to the truth. Author Kate Taylor, daughter of a Canadian diplomat, was born in France and nows lives in Ottawa

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