Williams, Andrew - 'The Interrogator'
THE INTERROGATOR is on the short-list for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award, and also for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award. This is rather neat as Ian Fleming appears in the book because he was the real Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence during the war.
Author Andrew Williams is a BBC documentary director and has written two non-fiction books, The Battle of the Atlantic and D-Day to Berlin. THE INTERROGATOR is his first novel, although it reads like the work of a much more experienced thriller writer.
First Officer Lieutenant Douglas Lindsay has survived the sinking of his ship HMS Culloden and now, in 1941, he is an interrogator at The Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre at Trent Park. In the course of his work he becomes convinced that the Germans have broken the British Naval codes and are able to direct their submarines into the close proximity of the convoys that are Britain's lifeline. When Lindsay meets pretty academic Dr Mary Henderson, who works in the Submarine Tracking Room, at the Admiralty's Operational Intelligence Centre at The Citadel in Central London, they begin a passionate affair, made more difficult by the sensitive nature of their work and the hostility of Mary's brother.
Lindsay, a Scot with a German mother, questions Lieutenant Helmut Lange, a navy journalist captured on his first war patrol with U500, and with whom he develops a close rapport. There has always been a sort of camaraderie and respect between naval officers that transcends the antagonisms of war.
When Lindsay reads the transcript of a conversation between three wireless operators from the U boats he is even more convinced that the British codes have been broken. Then U112, which has been responsible for the loss of a considerable number of British ships, is sunk and among the captured crew of the submarine is Nazi-hero, Kapitan Jurgen Mohr, and then there begins a cat and mouse game between Mohr and Lindsay.
Lindsay and Charlie Samuels interrogate the German prisoners for information when one of them, August Heine, lets slip the tiniest piece of information to Lange and subsequently this reaches Lindsay, but Lindsay, "half German, half mad, insubordinate" and Samuels, a Jew, are not fully trusted by their superiors or the security services.
I really enjoyed this fast paced, exciting thriller with meticulously researched details about how the Battle of the Atlantic was fought. The story also featured believable and sympathetic characters, on both sides of the conflict, and dealt with moral problems of loyalty and behaviour, which are relevant today. The narrative style with short chapters moving between the different perspectives of the characters perhaps owes something to the author's documentary background but added tremendously to the build up of tension.
Divided loyalties, Naval codes, Nazis, submarines, romance, intrigue, the Intelligence Services, Ian Fleming and the moral question relevant today as to how far an interrogator goes in order to save possibly hundreds of lives make this a great read and a very strong candidate for the CWA Awards.
Norman Price, England