The Interrogator, By Andrew Williams

The untold story of Enigma
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The Independent Culture

Although this is Andrew Williams's debut novel, he has published two well-regarded military histories. In D-Day To Berlin he explored the 11 months that tend to go missing in the public mind after the Normandy landings. This decent fiction does the same for our perception of code-cracking. We crack the Enigma code; we win the war at sea: that's the understanding.

Not so. Williams's novel exposes the very successful German ability to crack our own codes, and the resulting mayhem. The Interrogator is grounded in research, particularly into the interrogation techniques used on captured German sub-mariners, and their incarceration in the Lake District.

The main characters are a half-German British naval officer, Douglas Lindsay; his lover, Mary Henderson, a senior naval intelligence officer; and his formidable opponent, a captured U-boat commander called Mohr (a brilliantly realised villain). Mohr and Lindsay have a connection – Lindsay's cousin is a German officer.

While this seems an unlikely contrivance, it does allow the tensions within the intelligence community to simmer excitingly. The backbiting in the novel is an important ingredient in its success. So too is the sensory experience of the underground world of intelligence operations, as confined and edgy as life in a submarine itself.

Williams is no great stylist, but his dialogue is energetic, and he is armed with a real passion for these events. Events are never absurd or melodramatic, and the characters are damaged, driven and fallible.

From the opening, in which Lindsay's ship is torpedoed, to the chain-smoking tensions of the interrogators; and from the ugly outburst of violence in the prison camp to the surprising (and factually accurate) scene in which a German prisoner is allowed to go to a jazz club, this is gripping stuff. Williams has put his knowledge to work, and any reader will emerge from this debut entertained and half-amazed at a terrific, mostly untold story.

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