From Publishers Weekly
Broadcaster and author Booth (The Encyclopedia of Space
) mines the newly released World War II records of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (MI5) for this lively and sympathetic account of celebrated double agent Eddie Chapman. A petty criminal, Chapman was incarcerated in a Jersey jail when the Germans occupied the Channel Islands in 1940. After his release, he offered to work for German military intelligence and received training as a saboteur and spy in occupied France. He parachuted into England in 1942 with orders to blow up an aircraft factory, but contacted British intelligence once on the ground. Despite their misgivings—his handlers variously described Chapman as a very strange character and a man without any scruples—MI5 employed him as a double agent for the remainder of the war. There are legitimate questions as to the enigmatic Chapman's motivation, but Booth, who collaborated with Chapman's widow, Betty, invariably sides with the double agent against his critics. In Booth's judgment, Chapman was the most remarkable spy of the Second World War, and his treatment by British intelligence was shameful. Whether rogue or patriot, his story makes for intriguing reading, but Booth's transparent cheerleading for Chapman detracts from an otherwise enjoyable biography. (Sept.)
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Booth's Zig Zag is the longer of the two, going into greater detail about Eddie's life before he became a spy and into the histories of some of the people he knew and worked with. Drawing heavily on the memories of Eddie's widow, Betty Chapman, as well as recently declassified documents (such as Chapman's MI5 file), the book tells a very personal, intimate story. Booth also takes pains to remind us, from time to time, that Eddie, who wrote or authorized several autobiographical works in the 1950s and 1960s, was a habitual and expert liar and that nothing he says about himself should be taken at face value. The book, therefore, has an air of mystery about it, and despite the author's extensive documentation, we wonder at the end if we have yet heard the real story of Eddie Chapman. Pitt, David