Papillon by Henri Charrière

Papillon by Henri Charrière

Papillon by Henri Charrière

Papillon, was a bestseller when it was published in 1969 and who among us will not remember the Hollywood film of the same title which starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Papillon, the French for butterfly, was a nickname that was given to Charrière and it also referred to his tattoo. It is a novel about the recollections of Henri Charrière and it describes his conviction, incarceration on and subsequent escape from a prison on Devil’s Island, which was a French penal colony off the coast of French Guiana.

The author, Charrière claimed that all of the events that he wrote of were true but this was later called into question. Though some of it clearly is true it is thought that some of the scenarios and adventures may have been distilled from the lives of his fellow inmates.

The book opens with Charrières conviction in France for murder of a pimp named Roland Le Petit and following a period in prison in Caen he was sent by ship to South America and onward to the notorious Devils Island. Papillon met a fellow inmate Louis Dega who had previously been a banker prior to conviction for counterfeiting. Papillon liked Dega and protected him from other inmates. The book spans a period of fourteen years of Papillon’s life up to 1945 and covers his hardships and various escape attempts.

Papillon a fascinating tale, particularly if it was all true, and gives a real insight into the brutalities of the time and the incredible tenacity and will power of Charrière. Well worth reading, even if you have seen the film which differs in part.

Buy Papillon book now on AMAZON

Buy Papillon Blu-ray now on AMAZON

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

Many of us will have heard of ‘The Dreyfus Affair’ and will remember it as a distant memory from history classes as a child, but I suspect, like me, your remaining knowledge will be selective and riddled with holes and inconsistencies. Such a shame when you consider this pivotal time in French military and political history before the First World War. It gripped a nation at the time and the world more generally. This novel has modern day parallels in the forms of anti-Semitism and whistle-blowers.

The 2013 novel, An Officer and a Spy is a 2013 is a fictional thriller based on these dramatic events in French history. It is written by the supremely talented and diverse journalist and writer, Robert Harris. The novel recalls the true story of the head of counter-espionage, Colonel Georges Picquart, in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

There had been some disquiet about the conviction of Dreyfus for spying and his subsequent incarceration on Devils Island off the coast of South America. An island made famous in the novel Papillon which was written by convicted criminal, Henri Charrière. Picquart began to investigate the evidence against Dreyfus, who was from a Jewish background, which he found to be very weak and that the government and military had manufactured or altered crucial evidence. Picquart was pressured to forget his findings despite his assertion that the actual spy was still operating.

Anti-Jewish feeling was running high at that time and Dreyfus initially had little public support, but following an open letter published by the highly respected writer, Émile Zola, the tide began to turn. The letter, J’accuse, was published in a French newspaper in January 1898 and was a damming indictment of the whole affair – the rest is history….as they say!

The Harris book is the recipient of the Walter Scott Prize and the American Library in Paris Book Award, both in 2014.

Harris has researched many newly released documents and many of the original sources such as newspaper reports, the court transcripts and Dreyfus’s own written recollections. This is a thoroughly enthralling spy and political intrigue thriller made all the more captivating as it is based closely on fact. Picquart is shown as a principled man who strives to expose the truth despite overwhelming opposition from superiors and his peers. His fate is utterly intertwined with that of Dreyfus and so is his final judgement. An Officer and a Spy is a superb novel which brings great clarity to the subject and is utterly thrilling.

Robert Harris was born in Nottingham in central England in 1957. Following a career in television and as a journalist he came to prominence with his best-selling novel, Fatherland. He has subsequently published a succession of top novels including Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, Imperium, The Ghost which was made into a very effective and evocative film by Roman Polanski, The Fear Index and Dictator. He is, as you can see, a difficult man to pigeon-hole as his works are quite diverse and expertly crafted.

Buy book on AMAZON now


 

Six Days of the Condor by James Grady

Six days of the Condor by James Grady

Six days of the Condor by James Grady

American, James Grady wrote the thriller Six Days of the Condor which was first published in 1974. Grady next released a further novel following this success in 1978 called the Shadow of the Condor. Six Days of the Condor was set in Washington, D.C., and varies greatly from the film that was made in 1975 with actors Robert Redford, Max von Sydow, Faye Dunaway and Cliff Robertson.

The film, for some reason was titled Three Days of the Condor and seems to be the better known name.

Grady has written a clever, intricate novel that has a clever and believeable premis. The character, Ronald Malcolm’s job is to read the spy and mystery novels and to analyse their content and report on it. Do people really get paid for this as it’s a job made in heaven for me! Anyway, Malcolm is actually working for the CIA and is based in a secret office in Washington, D.C. By chance, Malcolm goes for lunch using an exit in the basement. On his return Malcolm finds that all of his collegaues have been shot and killed. He knows that he has had a lucky escape and that he is in danger and he immediatly calls a contact at the CIA headquarters.

On calling Malcolm gives his code name, Condor, and is ordered to meet CIA operatives. However, he fortunately survives a trap and goes on the run.

Malcolm has no where to hide and at random kidnaps a paralegal called Wendy Ross who he entreats to assist him….

I don’t want to give away too much. This is a great read in the classic style and well worth taking to the beach or on a commuter train.

Buy book now on AMAZON:

Buy DVD on AMAZON