REVIEW: The Enigma Affair by Charlie Lovett
In this propulsive historical thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of Escaping Dreamland, a librarian and a professional assassin team up to solve a seventy-five-year-old Nazi mystery and stop a nefarious opponent from wreaking havoc on the world.
When small-town librarian Patton Harcourt comes under fire one morning while making profiteroles, she has no choice but to trust the mysterious assassin, Nemo, who shows up in her kitchen. Fleeing a pair of German thugs, the two form an unlikely alliance as they try to decipher a seventy-five-year-old message encoded by Nazis on an Enigma machine. Traveling to Bletchley Park in England, they enlist the aid of Patton’s old flame, Ruthie Drinkwater, an expert on Enigma. The trio soon finds themselves on the run, pursued by both the police and Ingrid Weiss, a white supremacist trying to unlock the secret of Heinrich Himmler’s research into alchemy. If Patton, Nemo, and their cohorts can survive a host of dangers—from trained killers to explosions to imprisonment—they might be able to prevent Weiss from acquiring untold wealth to promote her racist agenda.
In this fast-paced thriller with a thoroughly researched World War II background, a mismatched cadre of heroes, including an art historian, a museum docent, and a collector of Nazi artifacts, must work together to stop a ruthless and resourceful opponent. Racing across Europe, attempting to outfox Weiss and her associates at every turn, Patton and her team mount a complex operation. But can they withstand double crosses and dark secrets from Patton’s military past to defeat Ingrid Weiss and discover the secret of Projekt Alchemie?
Dear Mr. Lovett,
I loved “The Lost Book of the Grail” and have always meant to try another of your books. “The Enigma Affair” seemed to have mystery, excitement, and (obviously) a tie into the World War II enigma machines. I kept reading it, wanting to know how the villains would get taken out, but the longer I read, the more the plot holes kept appearing. And even though some groundwork is laid for the changes of heart that happen at the end, I had a hard time buying some of that.
From the outset, it’s clear that Patton Harcourt is not your average librarian. She knows what sound different bullets make, realizes who might be shooting some at her, and knows how to take evasive action. When Nemo creeps into the picture, she’s not sure whether or not to believe what he tells her but she’s got a gun and faith in her skills so off they go trying to avoid who he says are the killers after her. Somehow everything appears to be tied into something from her elderly neighbor’s past, back when he was one of the first American GI’s to arrive at Dachau.
WARNING HERE – there is a lot of detail given about what Jasper Fleming saw and experienced when he arrived at Dachau. It’s horrific.
Things move at a quick clip with Nemo and Patton thinking on the fly, knowing that killers are still after them. After finding the hidden clue, arriving at the Bletchley Park Museum (how convenient that Patton knows someone who volunteers there and can help them), and ditching the killers (ewwww, another VIOLENCE WARNING), I’m beginning to wonder if I should still be cheering for anyone in this book. Luckily Patton’s friend knows someone who can help them next (the string of convenient occurrences also began to strain my credulity).
Two other plot threads and the characters associated with them were also introduced while more was revealed about the villains who were very villainous in the way that will automatically lose someone an argument for stooping to call out an opponent as what these villains are – see Godwin’s Law. At this point a lot of “Mission Impossible-esque” racing around with split second timed events begin to occur. I did want to see how the villains would “get theirs” so I stuck around to the end.
Plot zigzags happen, flashbacks to WWII happen, characters temporarily lost their intelligence and asked stupid questions so that information could be conveyed to the reader, and I frequently pondered the oft asked question of just how ubervillains manage to find so many dedicated minions – especially ones willing to be insulted and abused – to follow them. The villains also came off as a bit cartoonish.
I mentioned earlier that at one point I questioned whether or not I should be on the side of the “heroes” because initially at least they often act in very self-serving, deceitful, and morally dubious ways. Just when I had settled into accepting them like this and thought that the plot would keep them as anti-heroes, they began to be given backgrounds designed to explain how they veered away from the straight and narrow. By the end of the book, some weren’t exactly singing Kumbaya around a campfire but I was supposed to believe that their violent tendencies were now in abatement and that working for a noble cause had redeemed them to some degree. This didn’t work as well for me as I thought it was supposed to.
In order to enjoy this story, I believe the reader needs to just forget picky details, accept some – no, probably a lot of – hand waving and plot holes, and go with it. There are twists and turns but not as many as I’ve seen in some recent movies that had one twist too many. To its credit, the resolution of the “quest” actually makes a bit of sense. The book does end with some characters being in better places (mentally) then they were to begin with but not wholly healed and I was fine with that. But I guess I’ll keep looking for another “The Lost Book of the Grail” from you. C-