The Enigma Game


Elizabeth Wein


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

Febuary 14, 2022

saw The Enigma Game on the new-in-paperback shelf at the library. I had heard of Elizabeth Wein; I have her Code Name Verity book on my list of books-to-be-read-someday. I checked out The Enigma Game to see if Wein could deliver a marvelous tale... and I confess I was underwhelmed. While she constructs some well-rounded characters and puts them in an intriguing setting (a RAF airbase in Scotland during World War II), these protagonists don't actually have much to do. They aren't involved in any desperate missions, racing against time and/or bad guys, making sacrifices and clever feints or solving baffling mysteries - basically they just hang out at the inn called the Limehouse. For a thriller, the book was short on thrills.

Three women make up the lead characters: Louisa Adair is fifteen years old. She is newly an orphan - living in London, Louisa's mother was killed when the bus in which she was riding tumbled into a crater left by a blitzkrieg attack. Just a few days earlier, Louisa's father had perished when the ship he was on was torpedoed by a German U-boat. This leaves Louisa very much alone in London - she is originally from Jamaica. Louisa is biracial - her dad was black and her mother white. Louisa's skin color means that the class-stratified London society wants nothing to do with her. However, Louisa spots an ad in the newspaper, a bar owner named Nancy needs someone to look after her elderly mother. Louisa answers the ad, on the phone, and since her English is excellent and her skin color not visible, Louisa gets the job.

Louisa's assignment is to escort the elderly woman Jane Warner from a prison camp on the Isle of Man. Jane was being held there because she born in Germany, and thus was considered a suspect - her real name is Johanna von Arnim. The camp is letting "Jane Warner" go, because at age 82 she is obviously no threat. Louisa escorts Jane to the Limehouse inn in Scotland, where Nancy is stunned to discover that Louisa isn't white. But since Louisa is competent, gets along well with Jane, and since help is in short supply, Nancy Campbell lets Louisa continue to work with Jane. But should Louisa make one false step....Jane turns out to be a spunky character, she once was a famous singer, and still loves music. (One of the difficulties of getting Jane to Scotland involved hauling the gramophone and record albums along). Jane also once served as a telegraphist, and so knows Morse code.

The third female character is Ellen McEwan. Ellen is only a couple of years older than Louisa, nevertheless, she has enlisted and now drives a truck for Windyedge airforce base. Ellen's big secret is that her family are "tinkers", or "travelers", which I think is the English way of calling them gypsies. Wearing her uniform, no can tell Ellen's origins, so she is treated with a respect her family rarely felt before the war. But should the classist British discover Ellen's roots, she would certainly suffer.

The fourth main character of The Enigma Game is Jamie Stuart, a pilot who flies Blenheim bombers from Windyedge. Blenheim bombers aren't much of a match for the fighters of the Luftwaffe, so Jamie has seen many of his fellow aircrew perish. He longs to find a way to turn the tables on the Germans and deliver some payback.

A German fighter plane, with white sheets over its insignia, lands at Windyedge. Out climbs Felix Baer. He has brought with him an Enigma Machine, which is key to decoding the German messages. Felix is supposed to meet with a contact of English Intelligence, but bad weather delays Robert Ethan. After waiting a day, Felix climbs back into his fighter and flies away. But he leaves the Enigma Machine behind, and Louisa promptly discovers it.

Because Felix left instructions, making the Enigma machine work is easy. One of Jamie's flight-mates has captured a string of coded letters. They plug the intercepted message into the Enigma machine, and discover that they read the German messages. At this point, the obvious thing would be to hightail down to London High Command with this very important discover, but that's not what Jamie/Louisa/Ellen do. It is also strange how little traffic they capture - I would have thought the airwaves would be flooded with instructions - the German air force/navy/army all need constant commands and coordination. Yet the few messages that Jamie captures pertain exactly to the area around Scotland that Jamie patrols in his Blenheim bomber. Jamie acts on the decoded information, but the woman characters don't really have much to do.

From the notes at the end of the book, I have the impression that The Enigma Machine is a prequel to Code Name Verity, so maybe all these characters reappear in that book. Perhaps this book is a gift to readers who delighted in reading Code Name Verity, they get to read about the further adventures of beloved characters. But I wish those beloved characters would have had more challenges to face in this book.