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England, 1943. The German Enigma code has been cracked and the Allied forces are close to winning the crucial Battle of the Atlantic. Suddenly, the code is changed and it is obvious that there is a traitor in the midst. Code-cracker Tom Jericho then finds that his girlfriend Claire has gone missing, leaving incriminating evidence in her room and a full-scale search begins to find her. But Tom cannot believe that she was the betrayer and sets out to find his own answers. With support from Claire's curious roommate Hester, he uncovers a mystery that goes far deeper than the Enigma codes. He discovers a secret that both the Gestapo and the British government are strangely united in their efforts to keep, a secret that could be dangerous in the wrong hands and a secret that shames those fighting on both sides.
This book is an absolutely amazing historical detective story. Harris's debut, "Fatherland" was unputdownable and vastly intriguing but this book goes one better. In "Enigma" we are presented with the world as it was nearly 60 years ago, and an England tired by War. Symbolising this fatigue is our hero Jericho, a young man press-ganged into helping to crack the Enigma cose and almost killing himself in the process. After a short rehabilitation he arrives back at the Bletchley code-cracking centre to prove his worth and finding himself embroiled in a mystery in which the enigmatic woman he has fallen for is strangely implicated. Harris creates a flawed hero and an unconventional heroine in the shape of Hester Wallace, who together discover that the disappearance of Claire and the discovery by the Germans that their code has been cracked are linked to a shameful secret hidden in the forests of Eastern Europe. Readers may be shocked to discover that what is uncovered is a true story but the arguments for the British cover-up are strong if not excusable. Whatever your feelings, this book is a page-turner. Harris is a master storyteller and his characters are utterly believable and compelling, the world he creates is almost Dickensian in its vividness and the final few pages will pick you up and sweep you along with their shocking twists and turns and their tragic elements. This book is not without its humour but the overall tone is rather bleak, perfect for the era in which it is set and for the subject matter it deals with. When finished you will want to pick it up and read it all over again because the World it presents is so cold, cruel and distant, yet so staggeringly real.
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on 15 March 1999
As well as being an excellent thriller, this book painted a very vivid picture of what life was like at Bletchley park during the war. The technical detail was interesting, and prompted me to buy other books to find out more about the enigma codes. I don't read many novels, but as soon as I started this one I was hooked. I now plan to read his other novels too.
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on 8 December 2012
Hollywood appears constantly on the look out for a good story to adapt into the next blockbuster's screen play. All too often, a once and loveable old friend is re-packaged and franchised for the big screen; stripped, nay raped, of all the subtleties and nuances that made the story interesting in the first place.

Don't get me wrong, I love film. At it's best, I love the medium's ability to awe, to inspire, to entertain, and yes even to shock an audience in glorious surround sound and in pictures twenty feet tall. At it's worst, overt commercial considerations often drive a need to 'dumb down', cut short or alter so much that any similarity to the source material is purely coincidental. Good adaptations will often omit subplots, almost certainly cut out or amalgamate characters whilst at least preserving, sometimes even improving, on the substance of the original in the transition from book to screen.

Normally a book is read before it's film adaptation is seen, which is why all to often you hear complaints a film doesn't measure up to it's book. For me and "Enigma", it was the other way around. I missed the original publication back in 1995 and only through picking up a bargain DVD of the film did I finally get to see the cinematic version.

At long last I can now compare the film with it's source material, and can honestly say the film is a fair and accurate representation of the book and a good example of what I consider to be a successful adaption. Harris certainly evokes the sights, smells, tastes and sounds or a war weary Britain in the depth of the winter in 1943, and skilfully explains complicated technical details so even a technophobe can understand the various plot lines. I was gripped from the first page to the last. His style makes for an accessible read with just the right balance of fact to carry the reader forward, without boring or losing them.

In 1995, when first published, hardly anyone had heard of Bletchley Park or it's war time code breakers who made the final victory possible in 1945. Here in a popular work of fiction their world is finally being celebrated and made partially accessible. A good read, anytime, anyplace or any where.

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VINE VOICEon 4 January 2013
Robert Harris has, with enormous skill, seamlessly woven a brilliant thriller around the activities of the code breakers and support personnel at Bletchley Park and their continuing battle to read the German Enigma ciphers.

He focuses on the moment in 1943 when the Germans abruptly changed their codes and Bletchley Park suddenly found they could no longer read any of the German radio messages to and from their North Atlantic U-boat packs. The potential effect on the Allied convoys was more than simply frightening.

When the girlfriend of Tom Jericho, one of Bletchley Park's top code breakers, disappears there's an immediate suspicion that she may be a German agent who, in some way, has alerted the Germans to the fact that their Enigma ciphers are being routinely broken. The logic behind this suspicion and the way it impacts upon the code breakers themselves - who are working impossible hours and under impossible pressure - made it extremely difficult for me to put the book down.

And, as the Allied convoys continue - as they must - to sail, as the U-boat packs gather and Tom Jericho and his colleagues at Bletchley strive to break this latest Enigma cipher, we suddenly find that nothing is quite what it seems.

That final and sudden twist - as the Polish word Katyn unexpectedly appears - is brilliantly told and lifts the thriller into a class of its own.


The story of Bletchley Park in breaking, from 1939 onwards, the German, Italian and Japanese ciphers has, of course, been well documented. In the 'Acknowledgements' section Robert Harris lists a number of books about BP but I'd additionally refer anyone interested in the subject to four other books:

1. The Ultra Secret - the first telling (in 1974) of the story, written by the Group Captain responsible for security at BP throughout WW2.
2. Ultra Goes to War - written in 1978 it expands on 'The Ultra Secret'.
3. The Secret Listeners: How the Y Service Intercepted the Secret German Codes and
4. The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The History of the Wartime Codebreaking Centre by the Men and Women Who Were There.

And as for the horrors of Katyn go read, for example, The Katyn Order (fiction) or Remembering Katyn (fact).
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VINE VOICEon 19 April 2009
Having read Fatherland and been impressed with the depth of characters and research I avidly bought Engima, Harris' second book, anticipating the same level of detailed research, intensity and suspense. However, I was left feeling disappointed.

The book is clearly well researched and gets across the feelings of paranoia present at Bletchley Park in the Second World War. However, the characters are not as deep as in Fatherland. The Plot in the book seems to chug along at the same pace and never seems to have the intensity and suspense that Fatherland had. When the book gets to its peak I felt a little cheated that I had read so much for such a weak ending.

Overall, a clearly well researched book, but lacking in depth or suspense. If you have read Fatherland, do not expect a similar read.
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on 12 December 1998
When I first started reading this book, I found it quite hard to get into because of all the mathematics involved in it, I like war thrillers and so after a while the book caught my interest and I was hooked. I feel that Harris when he writes actually makes you feel like you are there in that time with the characters. Also the excellent place descriptions help you visualise what it was like to live through that time, and see life through the eyes of the characters. Mathematicians will applaud the book for the mathematics content, but those who like a good thriller won't go disappointed.
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on 13 May 2006
A bookish young man is found shattered; physically and emotionally. But, who is he and why is he in Cambridge? Enigma was recommended to me, and I recommend it to you. Jericho, the protagonist, persues what he thinks is his love in a page-turning race, twists and turns await the reader - all in the setting of industrious Bletchley Park. All the charachters are plausible and emotive - but there are some stereotypes about Oxbridge types, which really must be dismissed. Enigma gripped me, and must be the second brilliant invention from the wonderful family that made my tweed jacket.
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on 5 January 2002
But it could be amazing if the characters were more than cardboard cut outs. Harris seems reluctant to let us into his characters - fine in a film when you can see them but i'm reading enigma before watching the film. Still a highly recommened read though...enjoy it- a rare treat.
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Enigma is a fictionalised thriller based on the Bletchley Park code breaking site. While I confess to not understanding all the technicalities of cryptography this was nonetheless very much a "ripping yarn". The evocation of wartime Britain is brilliant as is his depiction of the oddball people employed at Bletchley Park.

The latter part of the book becomes a bit far-fetched and Buchanesque when Tom Jericho and a co-worker set off round the country trying to find out answers to what is going on. However it is all good fun and a gripping story. I didn't think Enigma was as good a thriller as Archangel or Fatherland but a recommended read nonetheless.
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on 5 December 1999
This was the first Robert Harris novel I read and it was excellently written and even though it contained a lot of complicated enigma codes and mathematics it still gripped me and was one of the best novels that I have read recently. Well worth reading!!
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