Picks and Pans Review: Enigma

updated 10/30/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/30/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Robert Harris

Robert Harris is the Fred Astaire of the thriller. His highly praised Fatherland (1992) glided effortlessly across the wide stage of World War II, forsaking the cliff-hanging drumrolls of a Ludlum for more cerebral melodies.

This time, the former BBC correspondent improves his routine with even more graceful choreography. His historical provenance is one of the greatest secrets of the war: Britain's successful cracking of the Nazi communications code called Enigma.

The pressure is intense. If the exhausted band of linguists, idiots savants and secret agents deciphering messages around the clock near London gets stumped, troops and supply convoys could be imperiled. Neither the Allies nor the enemy must know that the impossibly complex code can be read. But when the Germans abruptly change Enigma in 1943, burned-out mathematician Tom Jericho is recalled to find the leak and decipher the new code.

Elegantly researched, Enigma evokes a depleted and exhausted wartime England with perfect pitch. "The nation," writes Harris, "was a little bit knocked about, like...a genteel elderly lady fallen on hard times." Though readers never get near the front lines, they will find themselves perfectly placed to experience one of Britain's finest hours. (Random House, $23)

From Our Partners