Agent Zigzag tells the true story of Eddie Chapman: a small British criminal who turned out to be one of the World War II's most successful double agent. Chapman's story begins when the island of Jersey, one which he is a prisoner, is invaded by German forces: he then offers to act as their spy in exchange for his freedom. The first part of the novel describes his training in a 'spy school' in southern France. Once trained he is parachuted back to England with a mission: to blow up an airplane factory. Instead, he hands himself to MI-5 and, after telling them his story, offers to spy for them.
Macintyre explores the possible reasons for Chapman's action. His desire to spy first for the Germans then for the British does not appear to stem from a sense of morality or patriotism. Instead, our first impression of Chapman is that of a man who is driven primarily by self-interest. Yet, as the novel moves on, Chapman emerges as a highly complicated character whose true motivations are uncertain. Chapman appears torn between the friendships he has made with his German handlers and the mistrust and harshness with which his British superiors regard him.
A parallel to Chapman's behavior as a spy is Chapman's behavior as a lover: although he seems unable to remain attached to just one woman he nevertheless appears to make their survival and well being his priority. In a sense, he is a strangely loyal man.
Ultimately, it seems that Chapman's actions and willingness to repeatedly risk his life are the result of a desire for adventure, thrill and possibly fame.
MacIntyre's writing is amazing: the characters of Agent Zigzag and of his German and British handlers pop out of the pages of history and take life right before us. The story of Chapman is real but one, which, from any other source, may appear hard to believe, but Agent Zigzag is written in such a way that Chapman's incredibly unbelievable life becomes believable.
Personally, I loved the references to other events of the time. The story focuses on Chapman but not at the expense of other’s role in the ongoing war. In what I consider to be a nice touch, the novel even features a reference to Ian Flemming’s role in the secret service and the creation of James Bond.
We can assume this story is true since Macintyre based it on the documents MI5 has recently made available to the public.
Ben Macintyre is Writer at Large for The Times and contributes a regular Friday column. He has also pusblished a series of non-fiction historical books. He lives in London with his wife, the novelist Kate Muir, and their three children.
Ben MacIntyre's Books:
- The Man Who Would Be King
- The Englishman’s Daughter
- The Napoleon of Crime
- Forgotten Fatherland
- Agent Zigzag
All of which I intend to read.
P.S: This is my first book review so any advice on how to improve is welcome.