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Honor and deception in `A Man in Uniform`

London: 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.

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