Crossing by Night

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Of all the secrets kept by either side during World War II, nonewas more sensitive than that concerning ENIGMA—theenciphering machine used by Germany to transmit its most sensitivemessages. Because of the stupendous number of possible variations,the Germans considered their communications completely secure. Infact, however, the combined efforts of cryptanalysts from Poland,France, and the United Kingdom allowed Allied Intelligence tomonitor the supposedly indecipherable radio traffic.

The ENIGMA story was first revealed in 1974 by Frederick W.Winterbotham in THE ULTRA SECRET. In CROSSING BY NIGHT, DavidAaron offers a fictionalized account of the acquisition of themachines which made the Allied code-breaking operation possible. Aaron’s tale is based on the exploits of Elizabeth Pack, anAmerican (married to a British diplomat) who worked for Britishintelligence throughout the war—becoming, in the words ofWilliam Stephenson (A MAN CALLED INTREPID), “World War Two’sgreatest unsung heroine.” It was Pack, or so Aaron asserts, who,in the last weeks before the war began, carried machines destinedto furnish a vital ingredient to the Enigma decoding operationacross Germany and into British hands.

It is not surprising that Aaron chose to present his story inthe guise of a novel in order that he might supplement verifiablefact with fiction. But if the reasoning behind the work isacceptable, the level of skill demonstrated in CROSSING BY NIGHT isnot. The characters are far too one-dimensional, and even theobligatory boudoir scenes are unconvincing.