Combining fact with fiction, Taylorís dense historical novel is framed by the Dreyfus affair, a rabid political scandal that divided France in the 1890s and early 1900s. In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian Jewish descent, was convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly having communicated French military secrets to the German
embassy in Paris.
As A Man in Uniform opens, Dreyfus
is in solitary confinement at the Devilís Island penal colony in French Guiana. While much of Parisian high society have largely concluded his guilt, the authorís intrepid protagonist, Parisian lawyer Francois Dubon,
is hired by mysterious, black-sheathed widow Madame Duhamel to exonerate the famous Captain on behalf of an assumed friend.
Her eyes deep blue and sparkling, Madame arrives unexpectedly at Dubonís office seeking legal advice, convinced that Dreyfus is innocent and has been framed by a corrupt military. It is unthinkable that Captain Dreyfus is a spy,
even though the familyís attempts to exonerate him and win a new trial have made little progress. Dubon, a lawyer with no current experience in criminal law and limited knowledge of the workings of the military, is initially reluctant to get involved.
Obsession and desire are soon inseparable. Dubonís hesitation quickly evaporates in the light of Madameís ravishing beauty. Against the slightly accusatory tones of his wife, Genevieve, Dubon decides to gamble, taking on the case as he seeks to quell any threat of discord at home. Unwilling to leave Madame Duhamelís side, Dubon continues to visit his mistress, gorgeous Mademoiselle Madeleine Marteau,
balancing the needs of Genevieve and Madeleine against new uneasy feelings of impotence.
When Genevieve's brother Jean-Jean tells Dubon about a military department called the Statistical Section
- ostensibly formed to compile statistics but in fact a hot-bed of
counterespionage - Dubon insinuates himself into the department, hopefully long enough to see the Dreyfus file and
take some notes. Dubon canít stop the feeling of ďbowel-emptying fearĒ as he makes it through the front door, never quite sure whether
or not the officious officers in command are going to see through his flimsy disguise.
Taylorís tale unfolds in a complicated web of politics, espionage, spy networks, and cover-ups. Much of the tension
builds around the administrative machinations of the enigmatic Statistical Section and Dubonís valiant efforts to figure out how the French are getting hold of secrets
discarded by the Germans. Loaded under by filing systems and folders filled with pages and pages of notes and letters, the race is on to discover the whereabouts of Captain Dreyfusís documents as quickly as possible.
From Dubonís passionate liaisons with Madeleine to his best friend Massonís insinuations of superiority, to the anxious social conventions of Genevieve and her Left Bank aristocrats, a military conspiracy blossoms,
though evidence is at best speculative or, at worst, forged. While the novel is slow at times, Taylor's talent
lies in entering the mindscape of crusading young Dubon, his bourgeoning career as a detective and his role as a purveyor of truth forming the vital heart of the novel.