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A Man in Uniform by Kate Taylor
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A Man in Uniform

by Kate Taylor

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Released today, A Man in Uniform is, according to the description offered by the publisher, Doubleday Canada: "A seductive new novel from the author of the award-winning bestseller [b:Madame Proust and the Kosher Kitchen|1002174|Madame Proust and the Kosher Kitchen|Kate Taylor|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1180130483s/1002174.jpg|987664]. Taylor returns, again to France and too a divisive time within the country.

At the height of the Belle Epoque, the bourgeois lawyer François Dubon lives a well-ordered life. He spends his days at his office, his evenings with his aristocratic wife — and his afternoons with his generous mistress. But this complacent existence is shattered when a mysterious widow pays him a call. She insists only Dubon can rescue her innocent friend, an army captain by the name of Dreyfus who has been convicted of spying. Against his better judgment, Dubon is drawn into a case that will forever alter his life.”
I read this novel quickly, over one weekend. I feel Taylor has created a compelling story using an historical event that divided the nation of France. The Dreyfus Affair began in 1894. Captain Alfred Dreyfus, an innocent Jewish Officer in the French Army, was convicted on false evidence, manufactured with military approval, for a crime of high treason. He was stripped of his rank, publicly degraded and deported to the penal colony of Devil’s Island to serve a sentence of life imprisonment in total isolation and under inhumane conditions. The fight to prove his innocence lasted 12 years.

The Dreyfus Affair caused a deep rift between intellectuals not only in French society, but in all of Europe and the United States. It unleashed racial violence and led to the publication of history’s most famous call for justice, J’accuse, addressed to the President of France by [a:Emil Zola|4422974|Emil Zola|http://www.goodreads.com/images/nophoto/nophoto-U-50x66.jpg] (in January 1898). Zola became, in the words of Anatole France, “the conscience of mankind”.

The scandal involved not only political and military scandals but also murder, deceit, corruption and treachery. Using the documented truth of the Dreyfus Affair as the launching point for her second novel, Taylor becomes a master weaver, braiding the intricacies of historical fact with her own imagination and linear storytelling. Taylor also punches up an already bountiful chain of events through the introduction of femme fatales, seduction and villainy. Characters, both real and invented, co-mingle in her mostly solid novel.

I have had a hard time creating a review for this work because, while so many elements work ~ the plot, the historical context and facts, the characters ~ I was very let down by the use of coincidence and convenience. Taylor is a gifted writer and a talented, award-winning Canadian journalist. Through research, I discovered her initial manuscript “went through three significantly different drafts that involved major plot changes… Draft number two had serious tweaking…Draft number three involved a major rewrite then a major set of cuts” before the manuscript was considered ready for publication. Learning these details made me wonder what elements were sacrificed from a story that could have achieved literary perfection to make the novel more broadly appealing?

The novel is very well-paced and enjoyable; I debated calling it a fun read; it definitely makes for a perfect “summer read”. While looking at other reviews for A Man in Uniform, the terms “a romp” and “rollicking” were encountered again and again. The novel definitely engages the reader and seems to have all of the components of a very good historical, literary mystery. For me, the novel is hard to categorize by genre. I have read many reviews that refer to the book as a ‘hardboiled mystery’, but to my understanding, these types of stories are distinguished by an unsentimental portrayal of crime, violence, and sex. I think there is a lot of emotion in Taylor’s novel so I am a bit dismissive of that particular classification. In the end, though, I don’t think this matters. The novel is good and I am hopeful it will be embraced and enjoyed by readers. Kate Taylor is a very good writer and the story is strong. My only issue, really, has to do with how “neat” the story was; how conveniently it climaxed and resolved.

I recommend A Man in Uniform and rate it 3.5 (out of 5) stars.
( )
  DawsonOakes | Apr 10, 2013 |
This book was okay. I enjoyed most parts but wanted to " get on with it" for many parts as well. I did enjoy the character od Dubon, the lawyer although this business of a mistress being okay , really shows me the different generation that it was. ( )
  Smits | Jan 18, 2012 |
This was a fascinating read. I had heard of "The Dreyfus Affair" and was vaguely aware it had to do with spying but that was the extent of my knowledge. Since reading this book I have checked Wikipedia (what would we do without Wikipedia?) and found that all the essential facts in the book are correct. I can't find any evidence though that Francois Dubon lived or was involved in this affair. However it is an interesting device to have him investigating the matter.

At the height of the Belle Epoque, Francois Dubon lives a well-ordered life in the bourgeois quarters of Paris' eighth arrondissement. When not busy with his prosperous legal practice, he enjoys both a content marriage to his aristocratic wife, Genevieve, and satisfying afternoon encounters with his mistress, Madeleine.

But when a mysterious widow arrives at his office, his complacent existence turns to harrowing adventure. The alluring lady insists that only Dubon can rescue her innocent friend, an army captain by the name of Dreyfus who has been wrongfully convicted of espionage and exiled to Devil's Island. Against his better jugement, Dubon finds himself drawn into a dangerous case that shatters his life--and triggers political upheaval throughout France. There is quite a bit more int he book about Dubon and his lifestyle. I wonder if the existence of mistresses was as prevalent as this book suggests. Dubon's wife is aware of the mistress and seems to be okay with that as long as Dubon shows up for dinner and parties on time. I can't imagine many women being contented with that state of affairs now. Of course, women are not as dependent on men as they were at that time. (Thank goodness. We have come a long way, baby.) Even though I wouldn't condone his behaviour now, I did quite like Dubon.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction.

As I've never read anything by this author before (although I had heard about her book, Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen). ( )
  gypsysmom | Dec 7, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Based on a real case that had a big impact on France, this book tells the story of a lawyer who finds himself in an undercover mission, trying to prove the innocence of Dreyfus who is accused of treason.

Before meeting "Mr Dreyfus' good friend", Dubon's life was simple: he had his law practice and he met his wife for dinner after a visit to his mistress. But now, all bets are off, he's late for dinner, his mistress is ready to trade him for another and he's running around the city trying to avoid people he knows. And what about his new choice of clothes?

I have always loved historical novels, and this one did not disappoint me. ( )
  Mariecg | Jan 10, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this book from the Early Reviewers program and I have to say...I couldn't finish it. I got a few chapters into it and was completely bored. So, I wound up letting it go because I have so many other books in my TBR pile right now. I have heard varying responses to this book, some good, some not so good, but in my world, if something doesn't grip me after a few chapters, I tend to move on. :(
  allykat | Sep 20, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
A Man in Uniform could do with more of this sort of subtle suggestiveness. Although the story unfolds rather slowly, when Dubon begins working in the counter-espionage section, the novel takes off. The lawyer's panic at the possibility of being discovered is palpable; the reader can feel Dubon quaking in his puttees. From here, the novel begins to race with the urgency of a literate thriller....Today, the Dreyfus Affair continues to serve as a bracing reminder, in these times when Guantanamo plays the role of Devil's Island and we are all prisoners of our own fear, that we dare not have blind faith in the willingness of our leaders to defend our most cherished rights and freedoms. Taylor's engaging novel, in creating a detailed historical world, reminds us of that ever-present danger
 
Though the Dreyfus affair is a well-known historical event, Dubon’s involvement is pure fiction. The fiction is not as compelling as the fact, however. Some of the coincidences driving the plot seem unlikely, particularly the idea that Dubon could walk into a job in the French counter-espionage department and find himself assigned to the one file he’d gone there to investigate. Though chance can be an effective plot device (the accident with the cat, for example), too much of it can negatively affect a mystery’s plot....However, A Man in Uniform has moments of suspense and some good plot twists, and Taylor’s fine prose and intriguing depiction of historical Paris make for a pleasant enough read, despite the novel’s flaws.

 
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There was something small—and apparently alive—at the bottom corner of the cot.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307885194, Hardcover)

At the height of the Belle Epoque, François Dubon leads a well-ordered life in the bourgeois quarters of Paris’ eighth arrondissement. When not busy with his prosperous legal practice, he enjoys both a contented marriage to his aristocratic wife, Geneviève, and satisfying afternoon encounters with his mistress, Madeleine. He is never late for those five o’clock appointments nor for family dinner at seven—until a mysterious widow comes to his office with an unusual request.

The lady insists that only Dubon can save her innocent friend, an Army captain named Dreyfus who was convicted of spying and exiled to Devil’s Island two years earlier. Not wishing to disappoint the alluring widow, the gallant Dubon makes some perfunctory inquiries. But when he discovers the existence of a secret military file withheld from the defense during the trial, he embarks on an obsessive pursuit of justice that upends his complacent life.

Donning a borrowed military uniform, Dubon goes undercover into the murky world of counterespionage, where his erratic hours alarm his forbidding wife and make his mistress increasingly aloof. As the layers of deceit and double crosses mount, Dubon’s quixotic quest leads him into the heart of a dark conspiracy—one that endangers his own life and threatens to throw France herself into turmoil. 

Based on the infamous Dreyfus Affair and enriched with a generous dose of classic noir, A Man in Uniform is a gripping and seductive mystery set against the gilded years of late nineteenth-century Paris. 

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:43:02 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Enjoying a well-ordered life at the height of the Belle Epoque in France, bourgeois lawyer Franois Dubon finds his peace shattered when a widow entreats him to rescue an army captain who has been wrongly convicted of spying.

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