Cracking the code

The interrogator is the first novel by the BBC documentary producer, Andrew Williams. It's a well put together war-time thriller reminiscent of Robert Harris at his best - think Enigma and Fatherland.

Williams has also written several non-fiction works about the Second World War, and his knowledge shines through in what is an enthralling and exciting read. It also touches on one of those areas of the war that everyone feels they know something about, and yet, as this novel proves, you probably only know half the story.

The novel centres around a young lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Douglas Lindsay. When Lindsay's ship is sunk while on convoy duty in the Atlantic, Lindsay is dragged traumatised from the sea, and transferred to naval intelligence. Although he is viewed with some suspicion - his mother is German, and his cousin, ironically, a U-boat captain - his language skills come in useful when interviewing German prisoners of war. Lindsay becomes convinced that British naval codes have been cracked by the enemy, and suspects that the captain of the U-boat that sunk his ship knows all about it; but how, in a time of war, do you stay human and get the information you need?

Centring around the U-boat war, and the code-cracking activities of Bletchley Park, this could be yet another recapitulation of the Enigma story, but Williams looks at this from a different angle. While the German navy were unaware that the British had cracked Enigma, we were equally unaware that German naval code-breakers had cracked most of the British wartime codes. As Williams explains in a brief note at the end, this could have been potentially catastrophic had it not been for the British Enigma advantage. He also adds to the tension by the potentially ambiguous loyalties of the lead character.

I really enjoyed this thriller. Some of the characters are a bit wooden, and the speech a little clumsy, but there's the odd truly loveable character including the young German journalist Lange; and Williams ratchets up the tension superbly. I look forward with a great deal of enthusiasm to his next novel.


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