Agent Zigzag: The True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love and Betrayal, by Ben Macintyre. Published 2008 by Broadway.
Espionage is something that has always held a certain fascination for me, and lately there seem to be a lot of books coming out about the history of spying. Keith Jeffrey's The Secret History of MI6 takes advantage of newly-declassified materials to tell the backstory of British foreign intelligence, but I found that book dry and textbook-like. I wanted something with a little more action and tradecraft, more of a plot-driven narrative if you will. I definitely found that- and more- in Ben Macintyre's Agent Zigzag, one of three books he's written on various aspects of British intelligence during World War 2.
is a book about a singular character who rose to the occasion for crown
and country at a crucial time in history. Recruited by the Germans to
spy on the British, career criminal Eddie Chapman turned on them to
become one of Britain’s most valuable assets. Combining espionage,
adventure, true crime, love, World War 2 and more in a gripping,
page-turning package, Chapman’s story is incredible, crazy and unforgettable. Barred from publishing his memoirs in his lifetime- and probably just as well, considering that Macintyre makes a convincing case for Chapman as an unrepentant, inveterate teller of tall tales- and the subject of a film that distorted his story, Chapman's story can finally be told in all of its unlikely glory.
Eddie Chapman was a handsome, charismatic criminal with a penchant for explosives, the dramatic and charming the ladies. In jail on the island of Jersey when the Germans occupied it, he was recruited by the Abwehr to spy on the British. They took him to France and after they tutored him in various aspects of tradecraft including extensive training in all kinds of bombs, he was dropped in to the British countryside via parachute and promptly picked up by MI5. You see, the British had cracked all the German codes and were expecting him. Once back in his homeland, MI5 re-educated him about the progress of the war (seduced by the lavish lifestyle of his Nazi spymasters and personally fond of his captors, Chapman had believed their propaganda about the state of the war) and convinced him- they hoped- to double cross his new friends. They kept Chapman on a short leash as they worked with him in Britain, but sooner or later they knew they would have to send him back to France, where his loyalty would be tested over and over.
Agent Zigzag is a really fun read if you like adventure, espionage, or World War 2 history propelled by powerful suspense and a colorful central figure. I had a great good time reading this book and really look forward to more of Macintyre's spy stories. I also recommend this book as a YA crossover for kids interested in history who would be captivated by the story of a most unlikely hero. Macintyre tells Chapman's story with humor, verve and respect. I think a lot of teens would really enjoy reading about Chapman and his exploits. And I think a lot of adults would, too!
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.