“Ben Macintyre’s rollicking, spellbinding Agent Zigzag blends the spy-versus-spy machinations of John le Carré with the high farce of Evelyn Waugh.”—William Grimes, The New York Times (Editors’ Choice)
“Wildly improbable but entirely true . . . [a] compellingly cinematic spy thriller with verve.”—Entertainment Weekly
NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY AND ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW AND THE WASHINGTON POST
Eddie Chapman was a charming criminal, a con man, and a philanderer. He was also one of the most remarkable double agents Britain has ever produced. In 1941, after training as German spy in occupied France, Chapman was parachuted into Britain with a revolver, a wireless, and a cyanide pill, with orders from the Abwehr to blow up an airplane factory. Instead, he contacted M15, the British Secret service, and for the next four years, Chapman worked as a double agent, a lone British spy at the heart of the German Secret Service. Inside the traitor was a man of loyalty; inside the villain was a hero. The problem for Chapman, his spymasters, and his lovers was to know where one persona ended and the other began. Based on recently declassified files, Agent Zigzag tells Chapman’s full story for the first time. It’s a gripping tale of loyalty, love, treachery, espionage, and the thin and shifting line between fidelity and betrayal.
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.
Great book, learned a lot about ww2.
I am a real fan of espionage thrillers, especially those that are true. The author skillfully tells the story of this fascinating spy along with his Nazi and British handlers. You get a real sense of the dangers they face. You also see their human side. I would also highly recommend 'Operation Mincemeat' by this same author.
So well written that it's turned me into a history buff.