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Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal Paperback – August 12, 2008
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—New York Times Book Review
“[Agent Zigzag’s] incredible wartime adventures, recounted in Ben Macintyre’s rollicking, spellbinding Agent Zigzag blend the spy-versus-spy machinations of John le Carré with the high farce of Evelyn Waugh.”
—The New York Times
“Chapman’s story has been told in fragments in the past, but only when MI5 declassified his files was it possible to present it in all its richness and complexity. Macintyre tells it to perfection, with endless insights into the horror and absurdity of war….Eddie Chapman was a patriot, in his fashion, and this excellent book finally does him justice.”
—The Washington Post Book World
"Fact sounds like fast-moving fiction in this espionage saga of a man who was probably the most improbable double agent to emerge in World War II. ... The author has written an enormously fascinating book about an enormously fascinating man. The late Eddie Chapman would have been delighted to at last capture the limelight denied him by the restrictions of his wartime profession. The question now is, who will make the movie and who will play the lead? Too bad Errol Flynn is dead."
“[R]ichly descriptive, marvelously illuminating, and just plain brilliant….One could not think of a better subject for Macintyre's curious mind than the man whom British intelligence dubbed Agent Zigzag in December 1942…. [A] plot - impossible and pointless to summarize - that is as briskly paced and suspenseful as any novel's. Macintyre's diligent research and access to once-secret files combine here with his gift of empathetic imagination and inspired re-creation. He writes with brio and a festive spirit and has quite simply created a masterpiece.”
—The Boston Globe
"Superb. Meticulously researched, splendidly told, immensely entertaining and often very moving."
—John le Carré
“Macintyre [relates] his compellingly cinematic spy thriller with verve.”
—Entertainment Weekly (an “EW Pick”)
“Agent Zigzag is a true-history thriller, a real spy story superbly written. It belongs to my favorite genre: the ‘Friday night book’–start it then, because you will want to stay with it all weekend.”
“A portrait of a man who double-crossed not only the Nazis, but just about every other principle and person he encountered. In doing so, Eddie Chapman made all thriller writers’ jobs harder, because this spy tale trumps any fiction.”
“One of the most extraordinary stories of the Second World War.”
—William Boyd, The Sunday Telegraph
“This is the most amazing book, full of fascinating and hair-raising true-life adventures…and beautifully told. For anyone interested in the Second World War, spying, romance, skullduggery or the hidden chambers of the human mind, it would be impossible to recommend it too highly.”
—The Mail on Sunday
“Speaking as a former MI6 officer, take it from me: there are very few books which give you a genuine picture of what it feels like to be a spy. This is one…. an enthralling war story.”
—The Daily Express
“Macintyre tells Chapman’s tale in a perfect pitch: with the Boys’ Own thrills of Rider Haggard, the verve of George MacDonald Fraser and Carl Hiassen’s mordant humor. . . . Hugely entertaining.”
—The [London] Observer
“If Ben Macintyre had presented this story as a novel, it would have been denounced as far too unlikely: yet every word of it is true. Moreover he has that enviable gift, the inability to write a dull sentence. An enthralling book results from the opening up of once deadly secret files.”
“Splendidly vivid. . . . There are endless delightful twists to the tale.”
—Max Hastings, The [London] Sunday Times
“Ben Macintyre's rollicking, thriller-paced account…is a Boy's Own adventure par excellence and a gripping psychological case study of a man 'torn between patriotism and egotism.'”
“Macintyre succeeds in bringing Chapman vividly to life. It is unlikely that a more engaging study of espionage and deception will be published this year.”
"A preternaturally talented liar and pretty good safecracker becomes a “spy prodigy” working concurrently for Britain’s MI5 and the Nazi’s Abwehr.
London Times newsman and popular historian Macintyre (The Man Who Would be King: The First American in Afghanistan, 2004, etc) reports on the life and crimes of the late Eddie Chapman using interviews, newly released secret files and, cautiously, the English spy’s less-reliable memoirs. Just launching his criminal career when World War II began, the dashing adventurer was jailed in the Channel Island Jersey. Volunteering his services to the occupying Fatherland, he was taken to France and schooled in the dark arts of espionage and the wicked devices of spies by the likes of convivial headmaster Herr von Gröning and spymaster Oberleutnant Praetorius. Then the new German agent signed a formal espionage contract (under which his expected rewards were to be subjected to income tax). Dropped in England’s green and pleasant land to commit sabotage, he instead reported directly to His Majesty’s secret service. There they called their man 'Agent ZigZag.' The Germans had named him “Fritzchen.” Little Fritz, with the help of a magician, fooled his Nazi handlers into believing he had wrecked an aircraft factory. After a crafty return to Germany, he made another parachute drop home to report on an anti-sub device and the accuracy of the new V-1 flying bomb. The energetic adventurer from a lower stratum of British society was being run by Oxbridge gentlemen and by aristocrats of Deutschland at the same time. Or perhaps he was running them. Adorning his exploits were several beautiful women and an Iron Cross. It is a remarkable cloak-and-dagger procedural and a fine tale of unusual wartime employment….
One of the great true spy stories of World War II, vividly rendered."
About the Author
BEN MACINTYRE is a writer-at-large for The Times of London and the bestselling author of A Spy Among Friends, Double Cross, Operation Mincemeat, Agent Zigzag, The Napoleon of Crime, and Forgotten Fatherland, among other books. Macintyre has also written and presented BBC documentaries of the wartime espionage trilogy.
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Ben McIntyre is one such author whose works are at the very top level of the genre. He has the rare ability to turn the results of his exhaustive, stunningly complete research into a book that reads like a top shelf novel but drips with authenticity at every turn. In “Agent Zigzag”, we learn of the exploits of Eddie Chapman, an Englishman with an extensive criminal record who becomes a spy for the Germans but ultimately becomes a double agent run by the British. Despite his past, he becomes quite successful, supplying information to the British, supplying disinformation to the Germans, and earning the respect of both sides while doing it. He is one of the few spies who actually provided information which helped turn the war in favor of the Allies. In fact, one of his British handlers stated that his exploits were so incredible that they were beyond conception for the writer of fiction.
The book starts with Eddie the criminal deserting his lunch date by jumping out of a window as the police close in on him, and ends with Eddie the spy encountering that same woman (whom he marries) in a different restaurant after the war is over. In between the lunch dates, he gets picked up by police, gets sentenced to jail, gets collected by the Germans, and learns tradecraft, bomb making, and wireless communications. He is parachuted into England, where he immediately goes to work for the Allies and commences to supply his German handlers with disinformation, perform various espionage tasks, and help in measurable ways to win the war. He even returns to the Germans, survives numerous interrogations, and proceeds to supply his English handlers with information straight from the heart of enemy territory.
The text is clear and readable, with proper grammar and structure. It is alive, however, and delivers the story at the pace of the best novel, but is peppered throughout with references to material obtained from MI5 archives, interviews, and other history sources. In fact, the last fifty plus pages are footnotes on the sources from which the material was obtained. If high school history texts were this well written, there would be a lot more historians around.
This book is quite entertaining and satisfying, and at the end you will have learned things about the covert side of WWII that you would never have known otherwise. And all along the way you will marvel at how one man can do so many things and live to tell about it. I recommend “Agent Zigzag”.
Eddie was a British citizen, rough Soho neighborhood criminal and safecracker. His capture and imprisonment on the British isle of Jersey coincided with the Nazi takeover of Jersey. Not wanting to spend his time time a Nazi jail he offered his explosives and criminal expertise to the Nazis. They took him up on it and after training, sent him to Britian to commit sabotage. He was promptly captured.
Not wanting to spend his time in a British jail, he offered his spy services to MI5. He had just been trained as a Nazi spy and had loads of information. The Brits took him up on the offer. He was then trained in British spy techniques (while regularly sending messages back to his German handlers).
The whole story is a romp through the double agent spy system during WW II. The fate of Eddie/Fritz/Zigzag is for the reader to discover. I highly recommend this book.
The book is a good example of a Boys' Own Paper adventure (with added sex). Macintyre tries his best to unravel the twists in Chapman's character, but the spy remains just too twisty. However, he does a good job with the supporting players -- Chapman's British and German spymasters, a collection of eccentrics, like the enthusiastic Nazi who was hipped on English folk dancing. Macintyre also has worked hard to separate Chapman's version of things from what actually happened -- Chapman, to put it kindly, liked to embroider. Amazon offers the Kindle edition at a very low price, and it gives good value for the money, since one can reread it as one rereads a spy thriller. This thriller just happens to be true.
Top international reviews
Chapman, a criminal, sybarite and serial philanderer, found himself on Jersey when the Germans invaded and was transferred to a hellhole of a prison in Paris. The only way out of this benighted existence was to volunteer his services to the Abwehr as a secret agent. Eventually accepted, he was then parachuted into England, where he promptly landed flat on his face and then swiftly handed himself over to the police and volunteered to become a secret agent.
Get the picture? This was a man who first and foremost was driven by self-interest. Yet, as Macintyre makes clear, Chapman was not that simple a character. He developed a genuine affection for his Abwehr controllers. As for his many female conquests, he always professed undying affection, an emotion that was uniformly reciprocated.
Even his British secret service superiors, who, correctly, treated him initially with hostility and suspicion, succumbed to his undoubted charm and ability. Only when he volunteered to assassinate Hitler and go out in a blaze of glory did they curb his patent enthusiasm for espionage. That he was eventually sacked as an agent owed far more to another man's jealousy than to Chapman's failings.
Ben Macintyre tells Chapman's story with panache, affection and tremendous wit. In the course of Agent Zigzag, there are many charming and touching vignettes, none more so than the case of Praetorius, one of Chapman's Abwehr minders. A fan of all things English, but especially folk dancing, Praetorius eventually left the secret service and was appointed dance instructor to the Wehrmacht in the middle of the war. It makes you wonder why it took so long for the Germans to lose.
Source material is annotated and accessible and there's a veracity to the content which makes the story an exciting and relevant read. This book links well with others by the author, who writes with authority about espionage and duplicity in WWII. Chapman was a no mark crook who d beloved a taste for the high life. There's a strange naivety about the way in which disaffected individuals were 'turned'. Macintyre explores the way in which Chapman reached a position where he was content to maybe betray his country. But he also explores other possibility and the reader is left to judge the truth. Informed, intelligent, compelling and written with verve and a real sense of adventure.
Chapman's story has been written and re-written several times, probably from the 1950's onwards, and by many different authors. This is probably the most recent telling of that story and is more complete than many others as it was based upon official documents that were only released in the first years of the Millennium.
Chapman was a known criminal in the between-war years, a safe-cracker and thief whose name was constantly in the newspapers and associated with crimes that he may or may not have committed. Escaping from Britain to avoid prosecution and eventually arriving in Germany, he was trained as a spy and saboteur and was returned to Britain, where he admitted his intended purpose to authorities and was persuaded to become a double-agent working against the Germans.
Britain had 'turned' many others in broadly similar circumstances who, when presented with the choice of almost immediate execution or working against their intended masters, several chose the latter although not all were deemed suitable. Chapman's talents at opening safes would be of great value to the Allies.
This book is that story in detail. Woven into the author's interpretation are elements of many other true WW2 events, names of known personalities and their exploits that are more fully explored elsewhere and by other writers. The author has also written 'Operation Mincemeat', the story of the 'Man Who Never Was' about which a movie of the same name was released in the 50s or 60s.
I loved 'A Spy among Friends' and although I didn't enjoy this quite so much, it is still pretty good. Kim Philby was an enigmatic character, whose motives were often unclear, but Eddie Chapman always looked out for himself. This, and his experiences in the criminal underworld, actually made him an effective spy. What makes this a gripping read is the quality of the writing. It is meticulously researched, but the author doesn't let this weigh down the story, which moves along at a cracking pace. He's also very good at drawing out people's motives, and although he doesn't quite succeed in making Eddie Chapman likeable, he definitely helps us to understand him and feel some sympathy for him.
You really get a feeling from this book of the excitement that some agents felt in doing the work that they did and also of the danger that they placed themselves in. Chapman was obviously a man who thrived on adventure and deceit but it is also obvious that he had a real sense of patriotism and a desire to contribute to the war effort. This book is full of interesting characters on both the German and the British sides and the author presents them all as real people with human motives rather than stereotypes who are all good or all bad. The events at the end of Chapman's career in the Secret Service and how is treated, mostly because of his class, are very sad.
Chapman was a rogue, a petty criminal, a thief and a womaniser and he behaved the same before, during and after the war. I felt that the author rather minimised some of this behaviour in order to elicit sympathy and understanding for his main character. Chapman's war record speaks for itself - whatever his motives he was prepared to serve his country by acting as a double agent and by living in Germany during the war and reporting back to Britain - you can see by what happens to some of his compatriots that this is a very risky life.
Chapman rather reminds me of Oskar Schindler in Thomas Keneally's "Schinder's Ark" - he is a weak man who often does things which are unacceptable but when the time comes to take a stand he is prepared to take risks and put himself in peril for others and for his country. I really wonder what each of us would have done in Chapman's situation ?
Ben McIntyre is well known for his detailed research and, with this book, he continues his reputation by using the recently made available information to good use. The facts of the story are all there and they are presented in a way which is engaging from start to finish.
The book begins with a map and details about his research which is always guaranteed to pique the interest. When the story starts, I found myself being pulled in immediately and never let go.
It's a breathtaking, fast moving tale which the author manages to tell in a factual, controlled manner whilst never losing any of the excitement.
Eddie Chapman is portrayed as an unpredictable character, equally fascinating to both Britains and Germans during the war. Talking about the personnel that he deals with on both sides also gives a taster of the intelligence operations during the war.
Whilst all the adventure stuff is interesting (far more so than I expected), I found the most gripping aspect of the book to be the description of all the personal relationships he forges, particularly with his handlers, on both sides.
Delightfully, the side of Eddie Chapman's character which shines through is his intelligence, further enhanced for narrative purposes when compared to the almost stupidity of the people around him. Whilst everyone (well most!) seem to love him, there is never anyone who actually trusted him completely.
Great book for anyone with an interest in the period.
It was well written in an entertaining way and I especially liked the short summaries at the end of the narrative which explained what became of the main characters after the war ended.
The central character - Eddie Chapman - wrote his own autobiography and nearly all the extensive Mi5 files are also now available. The exciting details (he was eating a roast 'with all the trimmings' before he jumped out of a hotel window pursued by the police) are there. For anyone who has simply watched James Bond, or Le Carré films (better still if you have read fiction and non-fiction spy books) it gives you a huge insight into what real spies, and double agents, and the people running them are all about.
Eddie Chapman was a colourful crook (a safe blower) who absconded from prison in the Channel Islands to work for the Germans but immediately became a double agent when they parachuted him into the UK. As someone in Mi5 said if this story was written as fiction it would 'be rejected as improbable.'
Now read it yourself!
Well researched and wellwritten.
What is beyond doubt is that Chapman was a remarkably brave rogue, a criminal with a strong patriotic streak who found espionage the ideal outlet for his restless need for adventure. He was an amoral character who, for a few exciting years, found himself on the side of the angels. He served Britain rather better than Britain served him once the war ended.
Mcintyre's book captures the ambivalence of Chapman's career well; it makes for a rollicking tale. However, the author's researches (which read impressively in other books) do seem to have had lapses. Other reviewers have remarked on errors in connection with small arms and with life at sea. I was puzzled by references to "Field Security Policemen." My own experience in Field Security (admittedly some five or six years after Chapman's time) was of Field Security personnel, mostly NCOs, and of Military Policemen - two different animals in entirely separate Corps. The doodlebug episode, suggesting that the flying bomb terrorised London, may be accurate, but it contrasts somewhat with how it felt to a youngster growing up while the V-1s crossed the south-east coast. Yes, from time to time we were apprehensive when we heard the engine's drone cut off, but terrified? Not really. It was the V-2 that was frightening - you heard nothing until the explosion.