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Agent Zigzag: The true wartime story of Eddie Chapman

Ben MacIntyre

Agent Zigzag by Ben McIntyre is based on the life and times of an MI5 spy, British double agent, Agent Zigzag, or Eddie Chapman. The book is nonfiction, told in the style of a fast-paced thriller against the backdrop of Second world war. It delves into the shadowy world of British and German intelligence services where characters- some noble and some crooked – rub shoulders with each other as loyalties shift and stakes climb higher with each move. The author has used diaries, letters, photographs, memories and some declassified MI5 files to reconstruct the life of one of the most slippery agents of the Second World War. Though the book uses storytelling to hold the reader’s attention, it offers a great deal of information about the spy networks during the years, details of training and various personages who inhabit this murky world. At times this information takes over storytelling but that is only to be expected in a non-fictional biography.

The central character is Eddie Chapman, a small-time crook turned German spy and finally a British double agent.  His is a rogue figure – handsome and suave (we are told). Unpredictability and moral dubiousness add to Chapman’s charm. He evolves from a small town crook to the most wanted robber in England there on to a prisoner in Jersey Island jail when the war breaks out. Despite his bids to escape, he is imprisoned in a French prison by the Germans. From an angst-ridden English criminal ready to spy for the Germans, his loyalties shift once again when he parachutes down into the British territory and the German spy Fritz becomes British Agent Zigzag.

Chapman’s account has all the elements of an edge-of-the-seat adventure and thrill. His moniker – Zigzag-  suits his unpredictable slippery nature. Despite his proclamations of being a patriot at heart, one is left wondering about his loyalties. Despite his patriotic talk, one is left wondering, what if England had lost? Hero and scoundrel are two sides of a coin in Chapman’s case.

McIntyre keeps up the pace by his inserting great deal of information about spy techniques and networks. Particularly interesting are his accounts of Nazi intelligence. Though they inhibit the storytelling in the book, they lend an authentic well-researched quality to the book which balances out the coincidences and thrills in Chapman’s story itself.

All in all- an entertaining and in-depth look into the world of secret services during the World War following the lead of its charming scoundrel-hero.

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