Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is one of my all-time favorite books. I also loved Rose Under Fire and The Pearl Thief which take place in the same time period (WWII) and include some of the same characters. I was excited to see Wein was writing yet another book in this world. In Enigma Game, the recurring characters are Jamie Beaufort-Stuart (Queenie makes an appearance, too!) from Code Name Verity and Ellen from The Pearl Thief. The story takes place before the events of Code Name Verity. That being said, you do not need to have read the other books in order to enjoy this one.
Jamie is a flight leader for 648 Squadron, RAF Windyedge based in Northern Ireland. He and his copilots are frequent visitors to the Limehouse, a cozy, hundreds-year-old pub run by Mrs. Coleman, who loves the pilots like they’re her own. There, Jamie meets Mrs. Coleman’s elderly aunt, Jane, and Jane’s companion and helper, fifteen-year-old, Louisa. Ellen, a driver for RAF Windyedge and friend of Jamie’s from home, is staying at the Limehouse. Ellen is a Traveller but disguises that as much as possible. Louisa is the child of an English mother and Jamaican father; her black skin is harder to hide. The girls’ shared experiences make them fast friends. The day after Louisa’s arrival, she and Ellen are briefly kidnapped by a German pilot. The danger is quickly resolved but the effects are lasting. After deciphering the clues the enemy pilot intentionally left behind, Louisa discovers the prisoner left behind an enigma machine (a Nazi code encryption device). But, why?? If they work with Jamie, who could intercept the messages from the air, they might be able to decode them in order to help the boys of the 648 Squadron and, more importantly, help win the war.
So much to love here. Wein is a meticulous researcher. In her thirteen-page Author’s Declaration of Accountability, she explains in fascinating detail how she got her idea for the story as well as her research into WWII aircraft, enigma machines, her motivation for the characters, and so much more. In addition to Jamie, Ellen, and Louisa (the characters who tell this story in alternating POVs), the character of Jane is such an interesting one. She’s German but no one outside her inner circle knows that. She plays a very important role in the outcome of the story. One of my favorite parts of this book was the setting of the Limehouse pub. Its centerpiece is a fireplace with beams and a mantle made of a wishing tree - a tree that stood where the Limehouse currently stands. People would put pennies in the bark. During the last war, the airmen noticed the pennies in the mantel and started a new tradition of putting coppers in the mantel for safekeeping before they left on a mission. When they safely returned, they’d come back for their money and purchase a pint. For those that never returned . . . their money remained. Dead men’s money. Elizabeth Wein found that story in her research, too.
I started reading Enigma Game in eBook format but as soon as I realized I was reading about Scottish and German and British and Irish characters, I knew I needed to listen to it. That was a good call. The narrator’s accents were perfect and listening to them helped put me right into the story. Listen to a clip below!