Thursday, December 30, 2010
A Man In Uniform
It was a dark and stormy night, seriously. It followed what had been an already stormy day. We had a blizzard. In twenty hours we got sixteen inches of snow. Lovely to look except up close when shoveling it, but I get ahead of myself. When the clean up seems incalculable hours away having snow whipping by your window as you sit wrapped up in cuddly warmth reading is atmospheice not backbreaking work.
Lucky me, I had a book I had been looking forward to for my blizzard reading: A Man In Uniform by Kate Taylor. I read her first novel, Madame Proust's Kosher Kitchen and absolutely loved it. This new novel is based on The Dreyfus Affair. In 1894 a French court found Captain Alfred Dreyfus guilty of treason and he was sent to Devil's Island. The arrest and trial were widely criticized and became the most publicized civil rights outrage of it's day. It took about ten years for Dreyfus to be exonerated. This scandal was as much about the workings of the military in France, anti-semitism and the power of the press as it was about selling military secrets. Sounds like the bones of a terrific novel, right?
Taylor's book begins after Dreyfus is sentenced. A comfortably bored Paris lawyer, François Dubon is approached by a mysterious woman who is convinced of Dreyfus' innocence and is willing to pay Dubon to try to get an appeal for Dreyfus. Dubon is intrigued by the woman and thoughts of recapturing the excitement of his radical youth and takes the case. This begins the attorney's double life. His marriage and family, mistress, prosperous practice and social standing could all disappear when what began as a lark (with a little seduction thrown in) becomes a mission.
Sad to say but A Man In Uniform is mediocre at best. The characters are two dimensional and the connect the dots plot is as surprising and suspenseful as a Tic Tac Toe match. There is good writing in the scene setting and period details but Taylor does not capture the built in drama of the events or create her own drama. Madame Proust's Kosher Kitchen really is one of my favorite books so I was anticipating adoring A Man In Uniform as well. Oh well. On the plus side Kate Taylor is talented and will write other novels that I will want to read.