Monday, 3 October 2011


Title: Enigma

Author: Robert Harris

Number of pages: 452

Started: 3 October 2011

Finished: 7 October 2011

Opening words:

CAMBRIDGE IN THE fourth winter of the war: a ghost town.

A ceaseless Siberian wind with nothing to blunt its edge for a thousand miles whipped off the North Sea and swept low across the Fens. It rattled the signs to the air-raid shelters in Trinity New Court and battered on the boarded-up windows of King's College Chapel. It prowled through the quadrangles and staircases, confining the few dons and students still in residence to their rooms. By mid-afternoon the narrow cobbled streets were deserted. By nightfall, with not a light to be seen, the university was returned to a darkness it hadn't known since the Middle Ages. A procession of monks shuffling over Magdalene Bridge on their way to Vespers would scarcely have seemed out of place.

In the wartime blackout the centuries had dissolved.

It was to this bleak spot in the flatlands of eastern England that there came, in the middle of February 1943, a young mathematician named Thomas Jericho. The authorities of his college, King's, were given less than a day's notice of his arrival – scarcely enough time to reopen his rooms, put sheets on his bed, and have more than three years' worth of dust swept from his shelves and carpets. And they would not have gone to even that much trouble, it being wartime and servants so scarce – had not the Provost himself been telephoned at the Master's Lodge by an obscure but very senior official of His Majesty's Foreign Office, with a request that 'Mr Jericho be looked after until he is well enough to return to his duties'.

'Of course,' replied the Provost, who couldn't for the life of him put a face to the name of Jericho. 'Of course. A pleasure to welcome him back.'

As he spoke, he opened the college register and flicked through it until he came to: Jericho, T. R. G.; matriculated, 1935; Senior Wrangler, Mathematics Tripos, 1938; Junior Research Fellow at two hundred pounds a year; not seen in the university since the outbreak of war.

Read more (possibly the whole book) on a Russian website

Plot summary:

March 1943, the war hangs in the balance, and at Bletchley Park a brilliant young codebreaker is facing a double nightmare. The Germans have unaccountably changed their U-boat Enigma code, threatening a massive Allied defeat. And as suspicion grows that there may be a spy inside Bletchley, Jericho's girlfriend, the beautiful and mysterious Claire Romilly suddenly disappears.

What I thought:

This was another easy and engaging read from Robert Harris. He picked an interesting part of World War 2 history, the codebreakers at Bletchley Park, and wove a fictional tale around them. It was a good page turner and given that I have been in a phase of late (following the Bookers) of reading books that are undemanding of the brain, this fitted the bill. That might sound a bit of a put down of the book, but it isn’t meant to be. It is a decent plot and a good commuter or Sunday afternoon read. Enjoyable.

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