One December night in 1942, a Nazi parachutist landed in a Cambridgeshire field. His mission: to sabotage the British war effort. His name was Eddie Chapman, but he would shortly become MI5's Agent Zigzag. Dashing and louche, courageous and unpredictable, the traitor was a patriot inside, and the villain a hero. The problem for Chapman, his many lovers and his spymasters was knowing who he was. Ben Macintyre weaves together diaries, letters, photographs, memories and top-secret MI5 files to create the exhilarating account of Britain's most sensational double agent.
London Times associate editor Macintyre (The Man Who Would Be King) adroitly dissects the enigmatic World War II British double agent Eddie Chapman in this intriguing and balanced biography. Giving "little thought" to the morality of his decision, Chapman offered to work as a spy for the Germans in 1940 after his release from an English prison in the Channel Islands, then occupied by the Germans. After undergoing German military intelligence training, Chapman parachuted into England in December 1942 with instructions to sabotage a De Havilland aircraft factory, but he surrendered after landing safely. Doubled by MI5 (the security service responsible for counterespionage), Chapman was used "to feed vital disinformation to the enemy" and was one of the few double agents "to delude their German handlers until the end of the war." Meticulously researched relying extensively on recently released wartime files of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service Macintyre's biography often reads like a spy thriller. In the end, the author concludes that Chapman "repeatedly risked his life... provided invaluable intelligence," but "it was never clear whether he was on the side of the angels or the devils." Of the two Zigzag biographies this fall (the other, by Nicholas Booth, is reviewed below), this is clearly superior.