four-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
33-Mar-Apr-2008
user_rating: 
0

A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal

A-Agent ZigzagEddie Chapman, a suave Errol Flynn look-alike who financed his flashy Depression-era lifestyle with petty crime, was serving time for burglary in Jersey when the Nazis invaded the Channel Islands. Faced with imprisonment in a concentration camp, he convinced his German captors of his abhorrence of all things British and was recruited as a spy. After rigorous training in France, Chapman parachuted into the English countryside on his first mission and promptly offered himself up to MI5 as a double agent. Code-named Zigzag, he traveled throughout occupied Europe, gathering intelligence for the Allies while feeding the Nazis a steady diet of misinformation. His outrageous adventures and narrow escapes made him an unlikely wartime hero whose charm and audacity saved countless lives.
Harmony. 384 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0307353400

Evening Standard (UK) 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Agent Zigzag … is buzzing with life, rich in characterization and throbbing with incident. … It’s Macintyre’s forensic eye for the telling minutia and his puckish style that rehydrate the old Second World War files and bring them back to life again." Paul Connolly

New York Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[Chapman’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." William Grimes

Seattle Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"I’ve never read a better true spy tale than Agent Zigzag. … Just when things are at their grimmest, something so unintentionally hilarious, ironic or poignant occurs, you have to set the book down for a while just to savor the moment." Mary Ann Gwinn

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"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." Patrick Anderson

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"A review cannot possibly convey the sheer fun of this story, with its cast of eccentrics, its close calls and its improbable twists. Or the fascinating moral complexities." Joseph Kanon

Times (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"With the help of Chapman’s newly declassified nine-volume MI5 file, Macintyre succeeds in bringing him vividly to life. It is unlikely that a more engaging study of espionage and deception will be published this year." Christopher Andrew

Critical Summary

Past writers have attempted to recount this fascinating bit of history, but lack of information and official censorship have kept the full story from being told. Thanks to Britain’s Freedom of Information Act, Eddie Chapman’s voluminous MI5 files are now available to the public, and Ben Macintyre has made full use of them in this riveting tale. Critics unanimously praised Macintyre’s talents: his fluid writing style, his ability to build suspense, and his biting humor. Vivid descriptions, deft characterizations, and exhilarating action scenes (as well as secret codes, invisible ink, explosives disguised as household objects, parachute drops, cyanide capsules, and beautiful women) put Agent Zigzag on a par with any great spy novel or thriller.