The year is 1897 and France stands at the threshold of the tumultuous 20th century. Still smarting from the losses of the Franco-Prussian war, the army sees traitors under every bed while the government fears both the Germans and the anarchists. Socialists and monarchists, Republicans and conservatives argue bitterly over the future of the nation while a new mass media has emerged with rival political newspapers to fan the flames of conflict.
Cheerfully oblivious to the partisan turmoil is bourgeois lawyer François Dubon. Once a bit of a radical himself, he has artfully constructed a well-ordered existence running a genteel law firm, inherited from his father. He is married to Geneviève, an aristocratic wife from a celebrated military family, with whom he shares a young son and a comfortable, if passionless, marriage. For passion, he has his generous mistress Madeleine, who expects his company promptly at five o’clock daily and is prettily piqued if he is late. Then it’s home to oblige his wife with his presence at dinner and at their myriad social engagements. It is a good life.
But Dubon’s complacent existence is shattered when a mysterious widow arrives at his office. The beguiling Madame Duhamel entreats him to save a dear friend’s innocent husband, an army captain by the name of Dreyfus who has been convicted as a spy. The widow’s charms awaken his long-dormant radical streak, and Dubon agrees.
Needing evidence to clear Dreyfus, Dubon pays a visit to the Statistical Section, a secretive bureau that he discovers is the seat of French espionage. Wearing his brother-in-law’s military uniform in the hopes of blending in, Dubon gets more than he bargained for when mistaken for a temporary clerk. He soon finds himself spying on the spies, tantalizingly close to the documents that he’s increasingly certain were forged to incriminate Dreyfus.
Dubon begins to live a double life in order to crack this case, employing his affable demeanour to masquerade as a military intelligence officer by day, while by night he still frequents the high-society parties where the chattering class is much preoccupied with the Dreyfus Affair. The trouble is, Dubon can no longer avert his gaze from the ugliness that lurks beneath French society’s veneer of civility. He comes to realize, at some personal jeopardy, that nobody is quite as they seem when power is at stake.
The real-life Dreyfus affair was a seismic event in French history, exposing latent tyranny within its government and fierce anti-Semitism at all levels of society. With elegance, humour and keen perception, Kate Taylor brilliantly mines this rich source material in her page-turning historical spy novel, demonstrating how brittle a society’s standards of justice and civility can be, in times of national panic.
What’s Behind A Man in Uniform
By Kate Taylor
Before every political scandal acquired the suffix “Gate,” there were Affairs. The Profumo Affair. The Gouzenko Affair. The Dreyfus Affair. When I was a child these tales of spies and showgirls sounded more interesting than the budgets and battles taught in history class, although I hadn’t a clue what the exotically named events really involved. At university, I did study the Dreyfus Affair and found the actual story of the French army captain wrongfully accused of spying for the Germans as intriguing as the shadowy outline. It featured a detective story worthy of le Carré and an ironic retort to the “great men” theory of history: the innocent Dreyfus, so shamelessly persecuted by a government that would not admit it had the wrong man, was an unremarkable soldier who remade French society despite himself.
I investigated the affair further when I was writing my first novel, Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen, because the debate over his guilt or innocence divided the family of novelist Marcel Proust just as it so bitterly divided France. Then I had the idea that the Dreyfus Affair might form the spine of a second novel, a mystery story, not a whodunit so much as how-do-you-prove-he-didn’t-do-it. Its action would revolve around the paper chase that ultimately absolved the imprisoned Dreyfus; its fictional hero would be an equally unremarkable man, a complacent lawyer transformed by the pursuit of justice.
At first, I thought this was a story within a story; I also wanted to a write a 20th-century novel about a professor and a student who were attempting to write a mystery themselves. The idea was that my novel would alternate between the Dreyfus story and a modern love story, but as I began to plan this two-headed monster, I realized the historical mystery had to be able to stand on its own, as engrossing as any thriller. So, I began to write the novel that would become A Man in Uniform and gradually the modern frame in which I had planned to display it fell away as I became engrossed in the mindbending intricacies of plotting a genuine detective story.
I used an old-fashioned system – file cards – to keep track of my different plot lines, which had burgeoned from five to seven by the end of my third draft. Perhaps the biggest addition was made in the second draft when, realizing the beginning was moving too slowly, I decided a dead body had better appear by the end of Chapter 2. The only problem was that I had no idea who the body belonged to nor why it was dead!
Working on the book was sometimes a torturous process, and during the years I was writing A Man in Uniform, stories began to appear in the newspapers about the plight of terrorism suspects held without charges at Guantanamo or deported to countries that practise torture. I had not intended to write anything resembling a political novel, but the contemporary resonances became stronger and stronger as I wrote. The lessons in human rights and political responsibility that the Dreyfus Affair can still teach proved inescapable.
But most of all, writing A Man in Uniform was great fun as I juggled my plot lines and my history books. Now I eagerly anticipate leaving my computer and getting out to meet booksellers and readers.
I hope you enjoy reading A Man in Uniform.close this panel
Maître Dubon lifted his gaze from Madeleine’s right breast, which was peeking out tantalizingly from under a crisp white sheet, and let it travel slowly down the bed, admiring as he did so how the draped cotton clung to her body in some places and obscured it in others. He glanced across the room and let his eye come to rest, ever so casually, on the ornate gilt clock that sat atop the dresser. It was twenty minutes before the hour.
“Well, perhaps it’s time we get dressed.” Still leaning back against the pillows, he waited a long moment before he made up his mind to move, and then took the plunge, pulling the sheet off his own body, swinging his feet to the floor and standing.
Beside him, Madeleine stirred and stretched an arm languidly across the bed towards an armchair. Dubon crossed over to it, picked up the peignoir that was lying there and held it open for her. As she rose to her feet, she slipped her arms into it, drawing the fluttering layers of its wide lace collar over her shoulders and around her neck. He moved to his clothes, pulling on his vest, shirt, pants and waistcoat, buttoning buttons as he did so, methodically but with no apparent haste. He turned to a full-length mirror that stood in one corner of the room and straightened his tie approvingly. Though only of average height, he had a big head, and a finely shaped nose, straight but for the sharp break that formed a little shelf at the bridge, and his features gave him presence. His hair was still good and thick, he always noted with pleasure, and the occasional strand of silver that now appeared at the temples added an air of distinction.
He picked up his jacket. “See you tomorrow, my dear.”
“Until tomorrow,” she replied. He kissed her affectionately on one cheek, gently patted the other and left her padding about her small apartment in her peignoir and little satin slippers as he stepped calmly into the street. It was fifteen minutes to the hour.
Maître Dubon’s day was a well-ordered thing. Its final goal, which the lawyer achieved without fail, was a seven-thirty dinner hour during which he shared a light meal with his wife, Geneviève, and his son, André. He also breakfasted with them at seven, and most days joined them for a large lunch at eleven, for he thought of himself as a family man, and considered it his duty to eat three meals a day in the company of his wife and son, a duty he executed with affection.
From the breakfast table, he proceeded to the office, a pleasant walk, if the weather was fine, along the river and across the place de la Concorde to the rue Saint-Honoré, and so to his clients, who would visit him before lunch. They were prosperous burghers and people of society, and he drafted their wills and their contracts with diligence if no particular enthusiasm. The practice he had inherited from his father represented a limited set of legal permutations that he had long since mastered. The thrusts and parries of the courtroom, on the other hand, he left to others, simply passing on to a colleague the occasional unfortunate case that was headed in that direction. Returning home for lunch, he tried not to dally at the table and allowed himself only a single glass of wine, because after a few more hours in the office preparing documents and reviewing files, he would proceed to an engagement rather different from the dinner hour but to which he was equally faithful.
Between five and seven, Maître Dubon visited Mademoiselle Madeleine Marteau in her apartment off the boulevard des Italiens. He had been visiting her there five days a week for the past eleven years, ever since he had rented the apartment for her in the seventh year of his marriage, when André had just turned three. He had met Mademoiselle Marteau, or Mazou as he called her, a few years previously, had been introduced to her by a legal colleague with bohemian connections. In those days, she worked as a seamstress with a leading fashion house and had received many different visitors in a second-floor studio in Montparnasse. His attendance at her little gatherings and the occasional tête-à-tête had ceased briefly when Geneviève presented him with the joyous news of her pregnancy, but he had resumed the acquaintance soon after André’s birth. Labour had strained Geneviève and two things had become clear to him then. One was that his relations with his wife, while always cordial, were unlikely to become physical again anytime soon; the other was that if he wished to enjoy Madeleine’s company, he needed to regularize their situation. And so, he rented the apartment off the boulevard des Italiens and attended her there faithfully Monday through Friday, arriving with the occasional box of chocolates or new handbag to augment the cheque he paid into her bank account every month.
His relationship with Geneviève, meanwhile, remained happy enough. She was thirty-nine now; he was forty-three, and friends and relations had stopped dropping hints about the joys of big families. It was sad, but there it was: André would never have, could never have, a brother or sister. While Dubon slept beside his wife each night, their sexual relations were less than infrequent.
If it was important that he arrive home by seven, it was no less important that he present himself at Madeleine’s door by five, for he considered himself, both at home and abroad, to be a gentleman and here too there were delicate social negotiations to be entered into before they could move to Madeleine’s bedroom. Perhaps there was a new dress to admire or a recent concert to discuss over a cup of tea or a glass of wine. Maître Dubon may have visited Madeleine’s bed more than two thousand times, but their relations remained enjoyably fresh thanks not only to Madeleine’s sense of invention but also to his lack of presumption—or at least his pretense of a lack of presumption.
Yes, it was important to arrive no later than five, but Maître Dubon often liked to be there earlier or even make Madeleine a surprise visit on a Saturday morning after he had spent an hour or two in his office. His mistress was a highly attractive woman almost ten years his junior and it would be unwise to take her for granted.
So he was particularly annoyed when, on the following afternoon shortly before five on a day that was already running late, a sharp whistle sounded. As he lifted the speaking tube off the edge of his desk and put it to his ear, the clerk Roberge could be heard mumbling something about a visitor to see him. Roberge had never mastered the gadget, always blowing the warning whistle too loudly but then speaking too softly into the tube to be heard.
Dubon blamed the interruption on Lebrun’s mother’s cat. Lebrun was his regular clerk and knew that afternoon visitors were rare and certainly not permitted after 4 p.m. but his aged mother had fallen over her cat the week before and broken some bone, the location of which, being a delicate man, Lebrun would not name. He had craved Dubon’s understanding—and a few days’ credit from his annual holiday to attend to his relative. He had called in, as his temporary replacement, Roberge, a downtrodden character who floated around the quartier picking up work in various law offices when his weak health would permit. And so, on that day, it was the less-than-satisfactory Roberge who ushered a lady into the lawyer’s office at an inconvenient hour.
The woman, a widow, entered the room with a firm but quiet step. Dubon guessed her husband must be six months’ gone now: she was dressed head to toe in black, but not veiled. Instead, she wore a tidy little hat. Her hair was carefully pinned up out of sight, and the little that showed around her forehead was dark but not quite black, hinting that the unseen mane was a luxurious brown or perhaps a rich chestnut colour. She wore no ornament of any kind, not even a mourning brooch, except for a gold wedding ring on her left hand. She wasn’t old—perhaps thirty or thirty-five, certainly not yet forty, he estimated—and, if it were not for the sad contradiction between her youth and her bereavement, a man passing her in the street might not give her quiet figure a second glance.
Unless, of course, he had the gall to look her straight in the eyes. And what remarkable eyes they were, Dubon noted as he rose to greet her: a deep, deep blue, sparkling with an intensity that suggested widowhood had not dampened some quick spirit alive beneath her sorrows. Dubon was visited by a sudden image of her quite naked, her skin . . . He checked himself. Perhaps he had been staring.
“Madame, my apologies. I so seldom receive visits after four o’clock; you have startled me, I’m afraid.” He paused and reached for her hand, then held it in his as though he might kiss it before letting it drop. “To whom do I owe the honour?”
“My name is Madame Duhamel. I apologize, Monsieur, for waiting until the very end of the day to call upon you—”
“Oh, not at all, Madame. You are most welcome. Please, do come in.”
He adjusted the chair reserved for clients and swept a hand across it to invite her to sit down. Then, instead of going around and settling himself behind the large expanse of the desktop, he stayed in front of it, drew a second, smaller chair out from against one wall and sat down directly facing her. She made no move to take off her hat but sat there, clutching her gloves in one hand.
“The weather is still so cold, don’t you find?” Dubon asked. “Almost unseasonably so. I always enjoy the spring, but here we are in mid-April and we are still bundled up in our winter clothes. If I may be honest, Madame, I would myself not say no to a ray or two of sunlight.”
“Oh yes, a ray of sunlight . . .”
Her voice trailed off and she appeared puzzled, as though unsure why they were discussing the weather. She held his gaze now and again her eyes arrested him. They darted and glittered. This time he was not imagining it: there was some humour there behind her evident grief. Indeed, she almost laughed, emitting a little sound that ended in a gulp.
“Oh, Monsieur, I suppose you want me to state my business.”
“Whenever you wish, Madame. I am in no hurry.”
And indeed, Dubon, who but moments before had felt annoyed at the interruption keeping him from Madeleine, was now happy to linger. She seemed hesitant, as though sensing there was specific etiquette to be employed when visiting a lawyer’s office but ignorant of what it might be. Dubon found the effect charming.
She drew a long breath and shifted in the chair. “Maître. They do call you Maître, I suppose . . .”
“Oh yes, indeed. Lebrun, my clerk, always insists on introducing me that way to clients. That wasn’t him who let you in. That was Roberge; he’s just temporary. He calls me Maître too. My friends, on the other hand—”
She interrupted him here. “That’s fine. I will call you Maître. And,” she added, her tone serious now, “I will tell you my business.”
“By all means, do go ahead.”
“I come to you on behalf of a friend of mine . . .” Some skepticism must have shown in his face for she repeated it. “Yes, a dear friend of mine. She is in serious trouble, but can not risk coming to see you herself. Indeed, she does not know that I am here, only that I said I would try to make some inquiries as to what might be done to save her husband.”
“Save her husband? What ails him, Madame?”
“Nothing that true justice could not cure, Monsieur.”
“Well, Madame Duhamel. I am not sure you have come to the right place. A lawyer will get you the best justice he can, but as to whether that constitutes true justice . . .”
“Maître, please. Your reputation precedes you. Your work on the—”
“No, no, Madame, please, that is not necessary.” Dubon did not want to hear her fabricate some tribute to his supposed credentials by dragging up his minor role in events now long past. He could only suppose someone had told her that his services came cheap by the standards of the rue Saint-Honoré. God only knew what a client might be asked to pay the society lawyer de Marigny, whose offices were across the street, or the much-praised Socialist, Déon, who was just one floor up and always willing to take on a high-profile cause.
“Please, do continue. Tell me about your friend’s husband.”
“He is an army officer, Maître, a captain in the artillery.” Dubon began to guess the real reason she had come to his office; she must have learned of his family connections and judged they would be useful if her case involved the military.
“I will come to the point. There is no way to put it gently and you have perhaps read about the case in the papers. It caused some furor at the time: about two years ago, my friend’s hus band was accused of spying for the Germans. He was court-martialled, convicted and deported to serve his sentence in cruel exile. Even now, he languishes on Devil’s Island.”
“But, Madame, his trial is then long past. Why seek legal advice now?”
“Because he is innocent, Monsieur.”
“Madame, I am sure your friend is a charming person and a loyal wife—”
“Do not patronize me, Maître,” she interrupted.
Dubon, unaccustomed to such directness in any lady other than his wife, drew himself up and began again. “No, I would not dream of it, Madame. So naturally, your friend believes completely in her husband’s innocence.”
“It is not a matter of belief; it is a matter of fact. The man is innocent. I have known him, well, many years. It is unthinkable that the Captain is a spy.”
“That may be, Madame. However, if the army has convicted him at a court martial, I don’t see what possible help a lawyer could be now.” Most especially, Dubon thought to himself, a lawyer with no current experience in criminal law and whose only knowledge of the workings of the military was limited to Sunday lunches with his wife’s relations, however much the lady’s informants may have billed him as the highly placed son-in-law of the late General de Ronchaud Valcourt. “I can only assume your friend’s husband had the benefit of good legal advice at the time of the court martial?”
“Yes. I believe a Maître Demange undertook his defence. But clearly he did not succeed in forestalling a conviction.”
She paused and looked down at her lap before raising her face to him. He found it was all he could do to stare straight back.
“Monsieur, I am . . . we are . . . increasingly desperate. It has been more than two years, two and a half, and the Captain is seemingly forgotten. His brother is responsible for the family’s attempts to exonerate him and win him a new trial, but makes no progress. No progress at all. I do not wish to undercut his efforts, or divide the family, but I despair that his approach will ever bear fruit. No one knows I am here today. I do not wish my friend to be associated in any way with my demarche. I believe the family has made a mistake in simply proclaiming the Captain’s innocence, as though justice will ultimately triumph just because he is innocent. I have concluded that the secret to his release is to find the reason for his conviction. The army had evidence that someone was selling secrets to the Germans; the generals’ mistake was to convict the wrong man. And you, Maître, you can find the real spy so as to exonerate the Captain.”
If it weren’t for those unrelenting blue eyes, Dubon would have dismissed the widow then and there. Who was this lady with such inflated notions of what a lowly barrister could achieve? He answered rather feebly, “But I am a lawyer, not a detective.”
“Maître, you are both. Your very name is synonymous with justice. And you know the right people.”
Dubon knew the former was pure flattery and the latter much nearer the mark. Still, it was gratifying that after all this time people still remembered his work for the Communards. He had been only a junior lawyer in those years after the Franco-Prussian War. Maître Gaillard had taken the lead on the file, defending the many Parisians who had seized control of their own city after the Germans had lifted the siege. When the new national government at Versailles finally decided to march on the capital and wrench control of Paris away from its citizens, the suppression of the Commune was swift and brutal. Dubon was little more than a boy and had never seen such bloodshed before or since. The army had shot the Commune’s leaders on the spot and court-martialled thousands of others, executing anyone who had wielded a rifle or bayonet against the new government’s troops, and jailing everyone else unfortunate enough to be caught on the streets, whatever their sympathies might have been. In the long years that followed, it was Maître Gaillard who had fought hardest to get new civil trials for these bit players and bystanders, and Dubon had been his young assistant.
But Dubon had given up criminal law long ago.
“My friend . . .” she continued, “is deprived of her husband and does not trust that his brother’s attempts to free him will ever succeed. We must help her.”
“I see,” said Dubon. He took a long look at her before he asked, “And your husband?”
“My husband?” She seemed startled by the question, as though momentarily she had forgotten she had a husband. “My husband is gone. He has nothing to do with this.”
“My condolences, Madame. He is recently deceased?”
“Oh, no, six, seven months now.”
“So sad, very sad. Could he possibly have been as young as yourself?”
“Five years older.”
“Too young, too young. An accident perhaps?”
“His death, I mean . . .”
“Oh yes, of course. An accident. But really, we need not speak of him.”
Dubon noted with interest that she did not seem to have been a particularly fond wife. The thought gladdened him a little, although he did not stop to examine why.
“Well, Madame.” He paused, knowing full well he should send her about her business but wanting now to prolong the acquaintance. “I will think on it and make some inquiries of colleagues. Perhaps I can find an advocate who would be more appropriate to your needs.”
“No, Maître, really, it must be you.”
“You flatter me. At any rate I will make my inquiries and contact you in a few days.”
“Can I come again the day after tomorrow at this time, if it is not too inconvenient?”
It was not in the least convenient. He glanced at the wall clock behind her. It was twenty past the hour, almost too late to bother visiting Madeleine. He would have to ask Roberge to send his mistress a message telling her he could not come tonight. And the following day he would again be pressed to see her because he and Madame Dubon were to attend a ball at General Fiteau’s. His wife was insistent that he be home early on such occasions so that she could discuss her costume with him and review the probable guest list. So, if his visitor came again in two days’ time, on a Friday, he might be forced to make do without Madeleine until the following week. None of this was what he would have wished.
“Perfectly convenient, Madame. I am at leisure Friday afternoon.”
“I will try to be here by four.”
“I look forward to Friday, then.”
“Thank you, Monsieur.”
She stood and offered him her black-gloved hand. He took it, and bent over it without touching it to his lips before slowly straightening himself and then letting it go.
“Until Friday,” he said.
She smiled in response and walked out the door.
He waited until he heard her speak to Roberge on her way out and close the door of the outer room before he picked up the speaking tube and called the clerk into his office.
“You will have to send a message for me. The post office is at the corner,” Dubon said as he opened a drawer and pulled out a blue sheet of paper. He sighed as he filled in the form. If Lebrun had been there, he would have taken a look at the time, readied the form himself and been poised, without Dubon having to ask, to send the petit bleu. Paris’s system of local telegrams was known affectionately by the blue paper on which the messages were written before being stuffed into glass containers, ready to hurtle across the city along a network of pneumatic tubes that connected all the post offices and then be delivered by hand from the nearest outlet. There was a post office down the street from Dubon’s office and, but a few streets away on the other side of the avenue de l’Opéra, one next door to Madeleine’s apartment. Lebrun actually could have walked the distance in less time than it took the messengers to pick up the telegram and deliver it, but Dubon would never have submitted him to the embarrassment of appearing on his mistress’s doorstep.
He composed a brief message of regret and folded it over, addressed it and handed it to Roberge.
“You can take it now and send it on your way home. I will lock up behind you.”
“Yes, Maître. See you tomorrow.”
Dubon tidied his papers and left the office ten minutes later. He walked down to the rue de Rivoli at a leisurely pace and entered the place de la Concorde at the northern corner, passing the statues representing the cities of Lille and Strasbourg, the latter draped in black ever since the province of Alsace had been lost to the Germans during the war. Since André was a boy, Dubon had joked to him that his father crossed all France to get home in time for dinner, for he then walked down the eastern side of the square and across the bottom, passing the statues of Bordeaux and Nantes as he reached the Seine. Today, however, he barely noticed the geography and walked by the work site where the new exhibition halls were being built at the bottom of the Champs Élysée without even checking on their progress. Absent-mindedly, he traced his habitual route along the river and up the rue Bayard, still thinking over his conversation with the widow. There was some question about her story that he had meant to ask, a little inconsistency or discrepancy that was floating just out of reach. Whatever it was, it quickly evaporated as he pushed open the door of his home and walked into the salon.
“You’re early.” Geneviève greeted him in slightly accusatory tone. She was standing on the far side of the room, in front of its two heavily curtained windows. André was with her, his growing body jammed up against the delicate writing desk his mother had squeezed between the windows and the back of a long sofa. His school books were spread over the desk’s impracticably small surface and Geneviève stood at his shoulder, shepherding some piece of homework. André turned his head and, without comment, glanced back to where his father stood before returning his attention to his books.
“I had a client show up at the last minute but . . .” Dubon paused, remembering that he was early not late. Geneviève eyed him quizzically. “But I . . . well, I tried the tramway again. Really very quick.” One of the new electric trams had been installed along the quay and on cold days the previous winter, Dubon had come to prefer it to the crowded horsedrawn omnibus that served the rue de Rivoli. Geneviève herself had even tried it on a few occasions.
“Oh, the lovely new tram. It’s a godsend, isn’t it?” she replied. “I’ll just see if Agathe can get dinner on the table at seven. It would be nice to eat early for a change.” She smoothed her skirts and made her way towards the door Dubon had just entered.
“André, tidy up your books, dear, and take them to your room. Your father doesn’t want your schoolwork cluttering up the salon.” She glanced at Dubon as she passed him, and walked out.
“You don’t need to tidy up on my account,” Dubon said, smiling at his son.
André, however, was already bundling his books into his arms. He mumbled, “Doesn’t matter,” as he brushed by his father and was gone.
Dubon was left standing by the door, staring at an empty room. He crossed to a small table at his left, poured himself a short glass of red wine from a decanter and sat down in the one comfortable armchair Geneviève’s decor permitted. She favoured Louis XV, although the apartment itself was of a much more recent style. He removed an embroidered cushion from behind his back and tossed it over to the sofa, settled himself and took a sip from his glass. It was the Château Cheval Blanc from the year before last, probably better cellared than drunk this young, but Geneviève, who ordered all their wine, permitted older vintages only when they had guests. He swallowed—the wine had not improved since the previous evening—and sighed lightly.
Yes, he was home in plenty of time for dinner.
Kate Taylor is an award-winning novelist and an arts columnist at The Globe and Mail.
The daughter of a Canadian diplomat, Taylor was born in France and raised in Ottawa and Europe. She studied history and art history at the University of Toronto, and completed a Masters in journalism at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.
Taylor worked at the London Free Press and Hamilton Spectator before joining the copy desk at The Globe and Mail in 1989. She became an arts reporter at that paper in 1991 and served as The Globe’s authoritative and provocative theatre critic from 1995-2003, winning two Nathan Cohen Awards and a nomination for a National Newspaper Award. Since 2003, she has worked as a columnist, critic and feature writer in The Globe’s arts section, with a special interest in cultural policy. In 2009 Taylor was awarded the prestigious Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy for a project entitled Maple Leaf Rag: Canadian Cultural Sovereignty in the Digital Age, examining how a national culture can survive the forces of digitization and globalization.
Taylor’s debut 2003 novel Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen was a national bestseller, winning the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book (Canada-Caribbean region), The City of Toronto Book Award and the Canadian Jewish Book Award. A Man in Uniform is her second novel. She lives in Toronto with her husband and son.
Of her decision to set both novels in Paris, Taylor says:
“The experience of living in Paris and attending a French school as a teenager instilled in me a great affection for a beautiful city but also made me Canadian because, at a certain point, you have to choose where you belong. My first novel, Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen, was about the struggle to belong, about feeling torn between two worlds or two languages. It seems to me a very Canadian theme because we are a bilingual country and a country of immigrants. A Man in Uniform is set in Paris a little more coincidentally because the Dreyfus Affair happened to be an episode of French history that has always intrigued me. When I was researching my first novel I realized that it had the plot of a great detective novel.”
“Taylor is an aficionado of belle époque France. [Her] twisting plot is rich in romance and disturbing in its implications about the fragility of human rights.”
— Elle Magazine
“An engrossing mystery that neatly bridges literary and popular fiction. . . . Taylor deftly draws out the delicate balance between civil liberties and national security.”
"An engaging novel, one that will hopefully lead its readers to ... read more about a fascinating period in Western history."
— The Chronicle-Journal
"The Dreyfus Affair spurs a rollicking novel.... The book moves along at such an admirable clip that it’s hard to believe it won’t carry on without you if you dare put it down."
— Toronto Star
"Taylor demonstrates tremendous talent for breathing life into the people and places of bygone times.... Late 19th-century Paris comes vividly to life in her capable hands as she perfectly captures the social conventions, turns of phrase, wardrobe stylings and modes of transportation and communication that characterized that era."
— Winnipeg Free Press
"Kate Taylor’s new novel, inspired by the Dreyfus affair, is a bracing reminder that we dare not have blind faith in our leaders to defend our most cherished rights and freedoms.... Taylor's engaging novel, in creating a detailed historical world, reminds us of that ever-present danger. One of the strengths of this historical novel is the characterization of Dubon. His reticence to become involved with Dreyfus, and the way he is nevertheless irretrievably drawn into the affair by his own desires and dormant ideals, is handled with supreme skill."
— The Globe and Mail
"A gripping read that is both suspenseful and highly readable."
— The Sun Times (Owen Sound)
“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 charm of Taylor's novel lies in her seemingly effortless prose and plotting — and her ability to make room for touches of subtle humor.”
— ABC News