The Dreyfus Affair. I have always thought I knew what it was about. Someone was stealing secrets from the French military and handing them over to the...moreThe Dreyfus Affair. I have always thought I knew what it was about. Someone was stealing secrets from the French military and handing them over to the Germans. A note incriminating its author was found in a wastebasket by a cleaning woman and the French military got busy finding someone to blame it on.
Not finding the traitor. Finding a man who could be presented to the public as a traitor. Who better to fill that role in 1890s France than a Jew. And so, with no evidence against him the French military convinced a court martial of the guilt of Alfred Dreyfus with faked evidence, with phony handwriting testimony (the one person who said the writing on the note was not Drefus' was not allowed to testify), and a secret forged document that was not revealed to the defense until years later.
What really convicted Dreyfus was public opinion on which the military relied heavily. I did not realize how electric the atmosphere was at the end of the 19th century in France. After the loss to the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War and the civil war that erupted popular opinion divided into the few who thought France's military was simply not as good as Germany's and the many who thought the loss was punishment from God for . . . I don't remember what. It doesn't matter.
The Roman Catholic church was in decline and struggling to re-attach its wandering former members who had been exposed to Ernest Renan's Life of Jesus and the German scholars who had been writing for decades that Jesus did not exist, that the Bible had no claim to authenticity, that Darwin had proven the Christian religion was based on lies. Mixed in with these disturbing discussions was a virulent resurgence of anti-Semitism in France. I read somewhere recently that if one were asked in 1900 to predict which country would take anti-Semitism to the extreme in the next 50 years Germany would be no one's guess. It would be France that was seen heading for trouble.
I always thought that a few French army officers were protecting the guilty man when they rigged the Drefus decision. It turns out the guilty man was rather well known: Walsin Esterhazy. He eventually confessed, though that seems not to have convinced the partisans on the right of his guilt. The French military was so deeply corrupt there were almost no honest officers to protest Dreyfus' railroading.
One man, Georges Picquart - remember his name - was put in charge of intelligence and realized Dreyfus' innocence. He went through channels trying to convince the military and the government that Dreyfus deserved a new trial. Not only did those above him not act on his evidence, he was shipped to a particularly dangerous assignment in Tunis in hopes he would be killed and when that didn't happen, he too was put on trial on false charges with faked evidence.
Dreyfus' brother and a handful of others who were sure of his innocence worked for years to bring the truth to light. Eventually, like the military, they realized this was going to have to be tried in the court of public opinion. Zola wrote his famous J'Accuse and was found guilty of libel in another corrupt court and fled to England. Slowly, and it must have been slow indeed for the innocent man on Devil's Island and his family waiting for justice, the weight of evidence became sufficient to convince many open-minded people of Dreyfus' innocence. But still nothing was done because the military and government were so corrupt and they had the weight of such intense anti-Semitism on their side that they were able to prevent the re-opening of the case.
Finally, in July of 1898 Godefroy Caviagnac was made minister of war and he realized the depth of the deception and the innocence of Dreyfus. So when the government demanded he state that there was no question of the man's guilt he resigned. So did the man who was named to replace him. And the man who was named to replace him. And slowly justice made her way, a new trial that found Dreyfus guilty, again with forged evidence, was overturned and he was freed.
Frederick Brown's book presents the issues that polarized the French public in the late 19th century - the fall of a Catholic bank, the abandonment of de Lesseps' Panama Canal, the social disruption of the Communards after the Franco-Prussian War. Even the building of the Eiffel Tower was highly contentious. Eiffel was routinely described as an outsider, as German Jew (he was third generation French and not a Jew.) Brown shows how the strong feelings, not to say hysteria, of a polarized society led to the tragedy of the Dreyfus Affair and the subsequent weakening of the French Army, leading eventually to the French Army's capitulation to Hitler and the Vichy government.(less)
Simon at Stuck in a Book recently read and reviewed Blood on the Dining Room Floor (1933), a quirky mystery by Gertrude Stein based on real blood on h...moreSimon at Stuck in a Book recently read and reviewed Blood on the Dining Room Floor (1933), a quirky mystery by Gertrude Stein based on real blood on her real floor. She doesn't do a bad job, at least not by Stein standards. Here is the review I wrote when I read it back in 2008.
It was the summer of 1933 and Gertrude Stein had just achieved real success with the publication of her famed autobiography, The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas. But when she returned to her desk to begin writing her next work she found herself suffering from dreaded Writer's Block.
What to do? Why, write a mystery of course. The inspiration was a telephone line cut, two cars tampered with (spark plugs removed and water in the gas tank), a piano that wouldn't play (the keys were cemented together), and real blood on Gertrude Stein's real dining-room floor in her country house. Stein was also remembering the Lizzie Borden murders fifty years earlier and throughout the book she writes, "Lizzie do you understand." "Lizzie do you mind." "Of course Lizzie you do understand of course you do."
The result of this memorable summer was Blood on the Dining-Room Floor, of which Virgil Thomson said, "It's not the finest detective story in the world, but it is very good, Gertrude." I would echo Thomson and I would add that the ending . . . well, the ending is . . . um, . . . this is by Gertrude Stein, you understand of course you do.(less)
I no longer remember where I heard about this Lis Wiehl murder mystery, A Matter of Trust, but I'm grateful to the blogger who mentioned it. What a st...moreI no longer remember where I heard about this Lis Wiehl murder mystery, A Matter of Trust, but I'm grateful to the blogger who mentioned it. What a stunner.
Things I particularly like about this mystery:
It takes place in Seattle. Coffee at Starbucks in Pioneer Square. Mia Quinn is a real and likeable protagonist The antagonism between Mia and the detective assigned to the case with her is realistic and its outcome unpredictable The subplot about school bullying and the consideration of the price bullies should pay for their conduct is thoughtful I like Mia's children, who are real and whose problems are understandable You don't have to be Hercule Poirot to figure out who did what to whom and why
Her husband died recently and Mia considers herself lucky to get her old job back as a prosecutor in King County. She isn't on the job long when one of her colleagues is murdered and the elected prosecutor assigns Mia the case. Did he do this because he thought she would be more dedicated because the dead woman was a friend? Or does he want her in place to take the blame if the murder is still unsolved by election day?
As Mia works on this demanding case she is also trying to bring to justice some high school football players who have bullied a boy who killed himself. As she slowly puts that case together she has to deal with her own football-player son who is becoming increasingly difficult to manage now that there is no man in the house to back up her discipline.(less)