Set in the late 19th century, this is a fictitious story built around the infamous Dreyfus Affair and a land grab in Africa. Captain Alfred Dreyfus has been accused of selling secrets to the Germans. A Court Marshall finds him guilty and sentences him to a life term on Devil’s Island. The entire business is shrouded in mystery. He is tried in secret and no evidence has been revealed against him. His wife and brother are firm in their conviction of his innocence and are supported by Georges Seigneur and her father, who is a lawyer. Georges works with Percival Welles, a reporter, who is in Paris to start a news service. This is just a front. Unbeknownst to George, Percy is a go-between, passing on secrets from French spy Count Esterhazy to a British spy agency. Having fallen in love with Georges, Percy finds himself drawn into the Dreyfus Affair, which puts him in an impossible position – trying to prove the innocence of one accused spy while shielding the identity of another, and at the same time keeping from the woman he loves what he is up to.
The writer weaves together two parallel stories. The other concerns an intrepid band of Frenchmen who set out on a four thousand mile trek into the heart of Africa, a trip that is likely to take months and put them in dangerous situations. Where are they going? Why are they making this dangerous journey? And what does it have to do with Dreyfus?
Much of the African trip is told through the journal of Andre Durand. Like Percy, he does things which he regrets. Both men suffer crises of conscience and feel compelled to put things right. Georges is an independent woman with a mind of her own and an eccentric streak. At first glance, she is feisty, fearless, and passionate, with a sharp wit, (the first meeting between her and Percy is terrific). She makes a perfect foil for the rather sober Englishman.
The book has a broad scope, touching upon scandals in the French government and army, and the struggle for supremacy in Africa. The author keeps it simple, does not allow these aspects to overwhelm the human elements.
I do have a couple of little grumbles. I feel the character Georges fails to live up to the first impression and becomes more predictable and much less interesting. Then there is that cover. An uninteresting picture of the Eiffel Tower tells us nothing of what lies behind it.
On the whole it is an enjoyable combination of history/mystery. ****