Thursday, November 4, 2010

Enigma by Robert Harris

As I may or may not have previously mentioned, I do occasionally read something other than science fiction and fantasy. While in the midst of publishing doldrums, I'll pick up some sort of popular novel - in the spy, adventure, or mystery genres. Such a novel is Enigma, by Robert Harris. I've read one of his other novels, whose name I can't recall at the moment (Fatherland), and enjoyed it, so I thought I'd try another that my friend, Tim, recommended.

Enigma is a story about codebreakers during World War II in Great Britain. I'm not sure but what this qualifies as an alternate history novel - from what I remember, his other novel I read certainly did. Anyway, we pick up the story of a young mathematician in England's codebreaking corps, Tom Jericho, as he is recovering from a nervous breakdown suffered after breaking one of the German high command's toughest codes, Shark, which is encoded on the Enigma machines.

Through judicious use of some flashbacks, which don't distract from the main story line, we learn how Tom worked himself to the point of collapse breaking codes, then was driven over the edge by a love affair gone mysteriously wrong. He had become involved with Claire, a rather mysterious young woman who is a clerical worker in another area of the base where Tom and his colleagues work.

Tom's old boss recruits him once more, barely recovered from his breakdown, to help break a new variant of the Shark code, which has been switched by the high command either in response to the sinking of one too many german U-boats, or because a spy in the ointment has alerted them that the old code was broken. The breaking of Shark is given a new sense of urgency because the german U-boats are zeroing in on an American convoy carrying vital war materials.

Shortly after Tom returns to work, Claire disappears, and Tom alternates his time between working on the mystery of the new enigma cypher, and the mystery of Claire's disappearance.

Anyway, there are a number of interesting plot twists, tho I had the villain of the piece picked out rather early. The whole tone of the work is rather depressing, however, as Harris enshrouds the novel in a sense of stiff upper lip British fatalism, what?
Pick it up at the local bookstore or borrow it from a friend as you will, it should provide you with a couple of hours of enjoyment.

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