Ben Macintyre gained access to a vast amount of previously unavailable material about Agent Zigzag, before writing this book. The result is a fast-paced narrative describing the "amazing" (it really is) career of Eddie Chapman as safe-cracker, con-artist and heroic British double agent.
Chapman was captured by the Germans while in prison in Jersey (where he had committed further crimes to add to those he was on the run from on the mainland). He was able to convince his captors that he would make good spy material and before long found himself training at an elite spy school in France run by the German Secret Service, the Abwhehr (who turned out be an surprisingly un-Nazi bunch of aristocrats and eccentrics). The lifestyle at the chateaux was more like an exclusive gentleman's club, but the curriculum included bomb-making and sabotage as well as in-depth morse code and radio operation.
Possibly one of the most interesting aspects of this book is the relationship Chapman developed with his spymaster, Dr Grauman, an anti-Nazi German who ended up becoming a life-long friend of Chapman.
Chapman finds himself on active service for the Germans before being parachuted into England, where he promptly turned himself in to MI5 and was subjected to intense de-briefing and interrogation. Realising his worth, the British decided to use him as a double agent and returned him to Germany (via a remarkable sea-voyage to Lisbon), where the atmosphere had changed, and Chapman had to go through even more intensive interrogation before the Germans believed that he was reliable. Eventually ending up in German-occupied Norway, Eddie gained a huge amount of knowledge of German operations. He also formed a relationship with a Norwegian girl, who became one of many loves of his life.
Chapman ended the war back in Britain and then resumed his sub-criminal career, becoming at one time crime correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph, where he spent his time warning readers about people like himself.
This is a fascinating book which reads better than most fictional spy novels, containing far more revelations and insights than most authors would dare cram into one novel. By the end, the reader will have gained much affection for the heroic Chapman, while also wondering at how being both hero and scoundrel could be contained so abundantly in one person. I for one will miss my daily dose of Chapman exploits and am wondering what to read next to equal this book for vast quantities of adventure and bravado.
This highly entertaining and utterly gripping audio CD is the true story of Eddie Chapman, a British petty criminal who ended up serving as an spy for both England and Germany during World War 2, and who was hailed as a hero by both sides. "Agent Zigzag" is the name that he was given by the British authorities who were aware of his status as a double agent and used him to feed misinformation to the Germans.
Chapman's story is so full of adventure and ripe with coincidence that would be unbelievable if it were a novel. The story of how he comes to be an agent for the Germans is in itself worthy of a movie, taking us from a bank robbery in Scotland to prison - and eventual freedom - on the island of Jersey and then incarceration in the worst of Parisian prisons.
Chapman emerges as a kind of James Bond character: a handsome and charming rogue with a penchant for adventure, for gambling, fine food and fast women. He is a fascinating mass of contradictions: utterly loyal to his friends even as he betrays them, a hopeless criminal who develops into a resourceful spy.
Ben MacIntyre has amassed a vast amount of detail about not only Chapman, but his associates in both the German and English secret services. There is lots of interesting information about how those secret services functioned and what they achieved during the war. I was particularly riveted by the details about his training in spy techniques by the Nazis.
The audio book is made up of 5 CDs and plays for about 6 hours. It is beautifully read and very clearly enunciated. While it is an abridged version of the book, it has been very skillfully adapted and (having also read the book) I can tell you that they've done an excellent job of maintaining all the key points. My one criticism is that they should have incorporated more photographs into the accompanying booklet, which could easily have been done. They don't even tell you who the photos on the cover are, so for your reference the large image is Chapman after the war, the woman is Dagmar Lahlum (his Norwegian girlfriend), the man with the eyeglass is Colonel Robin Stephens (the commander of Camp 020) and the figure with the hat is Chapman again, later in life, posing in as SS uniform.
on 2 September 2007
This is tremendous book; well-researched and well written. The author, Ben Macintyre deals with Eddie Chapman as though he was one of Chapman's Security Service handlers; questioning everything, giving praise where appropriate but never quite trusting him. He describes Chapman as `a shameless liar', sentiments with which I fully agree. There is no doubt that Chapman did a good service for his country since he convincingly bluffed the Germans but he `tried it on' with everybody he encountered and I wonder which way he would have jumped if the allies had lost the war?
A gripping account of England's most famous double agent.
on 24 January 2007
Having an extensive library on the Double Cross Operation I did not think there was anything new to say about the legendary Eddie 'The Biscuit'(so called for his love of these then new snacks) Chapman. He wrote his own book and had books written about him. And there was a fine film about him. Mr Mcintyre has shown there is always room to tell a great story again. True he adds nothing to what I knew and in many instances has almost copied from earlier works. No matter say I. He tells the story with verve and in a lively style, that reminds me of of the doyen of spy writers, the great Chapman Pincher. So this is the story. Eddie Chapman: rogue, gymnast extraordinaire (able to bend himself backwards to gain access to safes) criminal, confidence trickster, hero to both sides, lover to many beautiful women I(and so it is alleged some men) and betrayer of all. At the start of the Second World War, Chapman was recruited by the German Secret Service. He was a highly prized Nazi agent. He was also a secret spy for Britain, alias Agent Zigzag. "Agent Zigzag" is the untold story of Britain's most extraordinary wartime double agent. Genuinely courageous, able to withstand withering interrogations from both sides by withdarwing into himself, in the style of Gandhi, Chapman was a dashing, charming and fiercely intelligent man whose talents led to a single end: breaking the rules. He wore loud suits, drove fast cars, and had a woman in every port. Yet, at the same time he was, in his own way, loyal to his lover and their child. This was a man who courted contradictions as much as he courted adventure. 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 ended, and the other began. In 1943, Colonel Tim Stephens of MI5 said of the story of Chapman: 'In fiction it would be rejected as improbable.' MI5 have only just released the material on Chapman, and Macintyre has full access to all of Chapman's manuscripts, letters and photographs. Wiely he dismisses much of this material as irrelevant. What emerges from this trove is an exhilarating true story of loyalty and betrayal, courage and cowardice, greed and lust unbridled, a crook who was also a hero. It is one of the most gripping untold stories of the Second World War. Bravo to Mr McIntyre for telling it with such aplomb!
on 11 June 2007
So here we are in the morally ambivalent noughties looking back at the morally ambivalent forties. Increasingly we have learned that wars have heroes and villains on both sides (think Abu Ghraib; the Balkans; the Killing Fields; etc.) and that there are degrees of heroism and villainry. Perhaps because of the result, and the propaganda, and the Commando comics, we used to think of World War II as a simple good (Brits) v bad (Nazis) episode. Then we found out about Schindler, the Nazis' Mr Fixit who quietly set about saving Jewish families. Now we find the equally egregious Eddie Chapman: a violent English criminal who saved the lives of thousands of Londoners and helped to shorten the War. Like Schindler, pre-war, Chapman was an energetic chancer, perhaps surprised when the greater villainy of Nazism shook his sleeping conscience into action.
Ben Macintyre's characters positively leap off the page; most of all Chapman himself, plus his English and German handlers, and wonderfully-drawn cameos including the Enigma codebreakers, a rough-sleeping brainiac spymaster, a pair of hilariously world-weary London "minders", an explosive aristocrat, and a celebrity magician. Other assorted gangsters, molls and fellow agents, on every front of the war, seem to have had shared a love of partying hard as conflict raged around them - wartime images of austerity have tended to make us forget that, when they knew that any of them could die at any time, the risk-seekers chose to live life to the colourful max. Looking for a pattern to resolve the contradictions of Chapman's c.v., Macintyre repeatedly points to his phenomenal energy - it makes sense that a man with such an all-consuming love of life would pour this energy into dangerous pursuits. Whether, at any given moment, Chapman invested his energies in criminal "enterprises", libido, sabotage, or escapology, seemed rather to depend on how he made sense of the opportunities (and especially rewards) that presented themselves.
In amongst all the physical explosions, this book also explodes a number of tired conventions:
First, that all Nazis were sociopaths or psychopaths. We may already know that many Germans were hostile to Hitler but couldn't find a way to depose him directly. Yet Macintyre's fresh and empathetic account of Zigzag's German spymaster, Graumann / von Groning shows a quite different view of the Abwehr (think German MI5) than the one we might have expected; Graumann emerges as a cultured gentleman, possibly plotting deeper than his superiors realised, yet all the while flawed (like Chapman) by a tendency towards self-destruction.
There are other big and pleasant surprises: Best of all that, for all their efficiency with weaponry, the Nazis' espionage effort was, frankly, rubbish and no match for the very much greater ingenuity and applied skills of its British counterpart.
And again, although much has been written about the strategic influence of Bletchley and Enigma on the course of the War, I'd say that this book really shows, perhaps for the first time, the benefits of the Most Secret Sources findings for espionage work on the ground - effective fake-sabotage deceptions, the wholesale dumping of Nazi V-2 bombs, and the "feint" that cleared the way for D-Day to succeed. To modern eyes, the Zigzag handlers seem to have made unbelievably creative use of the Enigma eavesdroppings. How many of the modern world's risk-averse governments would have the balls to take such creative risks? Churchill earns our fresh respect with these disclosures.
There's also a fascinating, but subtly stated, commentary on the rather ugly undercurrent of class war within WWII British intelligence: The sense that some "gentlemen" didn't want Chapman, as an oik, to be allowed to succeed - and then, riotously, he succeeded for a long time in spite of this other, more pernicious, form of sabotage deployed against him. The pleasant surprise element here though is to find that the most senior handlers, Oxbridge men to the core, were his strongest supporters: They saw through to the "diamond in the rough" and rallied to protect him against the career saboteurs, to the extent that Churchill (himself a highly intelligent toff, of course) gave Zigzag a personal thumbs-up.
Among its many narrative surprises, and surprise connections, the book joyously saves until near the end an appearance by one I. Fleming (and his fictional alter ego) - deliciously also fixing the celluloid persona of a certain S. Connery to a real-world reference point. Riveting stuff, especially if, like me, you enjoy spotting when the worlds of fiction and reality overlap.
Actually this story is in many ways better than the best fiction - while it's self-evidently grounded in very thorough research, here, unlike so many other "history / biography" books, the facts never slow down the narrative drive. It's a thriller, none the worse (much better, in fact) for being a true story and it kept me keep reading well into the small hours to find out how it all ended. Get it! Then get it for all your friends, they'll thank you for it!
on 19 December 2011
I purchased this book after watching a BBC documentary ('Double Agent: The Eddie Chapman Story') by the author, Ben MacIntyre, on the subject. The two compliment each other wonderfully. Chapman's life reads like fiction and in fact, was made into a semi-fictionalised movie, 'Triple Cross' released in 1962, which was also shown on BBC recently. Whist the move was distinctly second rate, a sort of sexed-up, sub-James Bond, the book and the documentary were excellent, the latter even showing interviews with him shortly before he died in 1997 which couldn't be broadcast previously because of the British Official Secrets Act. He still had a twinkle in his eye.
This book is thoroughly recommended as a worthy biography of a fascinating man.
Unlike the largely unproven or fictitious exploits of Sidney Reilly who preceded Chapman in the first World War, those of Chapman are better documented and recognised.
Chapman's story has been written and re-written several times, probably from the 1950's onwards, and by many different authors. This is probably the most recent telling of that story and is more complete than many others as it was based upon official documents that were only released in the first years of the Millennium.
Chapman was a known criminal in the between-war years, a safe-cracker and thief whose name was constantly in the newspapers and associated with crimes that he may or may not have committed. Escaping from Britain to avoid prosecution and eventually arriving in Germany, he was trained as a spy and saboteur and was returned to Britain, where he admitted his intended purpose to authorities and was persuaded to become a double-agent working against the Germans.
Britain had 'turned' many others in broadly similar circumstances who, when presented with the choice of almost immediate execution or working against their intended masters, several chose the latter although not all were deemed suitable. Chapman's talents at opening safes would be of great value to the Allies.
This book is that story in detail. Woven into the author's interpretation are elements of many other true WW2 events, names of known personalities and their exploits that are more fully explored elsewhere and by other writers. The author has also written 'Operation Mincemeat', the story of the 'Man Who Never Was' about which a movie of the same name was released in the 50s or 60s.
Nicholas Booth's story of the life of double agent Eddie Chapman, Zig Zag, had the strengths and weakness of drawing substantially on interviews with Chapman's widow. Ben Mcintyre's book is a mirror image, based heavily upon official documents but lacking the insights that Betty Chapman provided for the earlier account.
What is beyond doubt is that Chapman was a remarkably brave rogue, a criminal with a strong patriotic streak who found espionage the ideal outlet for his restless need for adventure. He was an amoral character who, for a few exciting years, found himself on the side of the angels. He served Britain rather better than Britain served him once the war ended.
Mcintyre's book captures the ambivalence of Chapman's career well; it makes for a rollicking tale. However, the author's researches (which read impressively in other books) do seem to have had lapses. Other reviewers have remarked on errors in connection with small arms and with life at sea. I was puzzled by references to "Field Security Policemen." My own experience in Field Security (admittedly some five or six years after Chapman's time) was of Field Security personnel, mostly NCOs, and of Military Policemen - two different animals in entirely separate Corps. The doodlebug episode, suggesting that the flying bomb terrorised London, may be accurate, but it contrasts somewhat with how it felt to a youngster growing up while the V-1s crossed the south-east coast. Yes, from time to time we were apprehensive when we heard the engine's drone cut off, but terrified? Not really. It was the V-2 that was frightening - you heard nothing until the explosion.
on 24 May 2008
Agent Zigzag, a Review by the
Cote d'Azur Men's Book Club
When one of the most wanted men in Britain escaped police by jumping through a Jersey hotel window he leaped into a new career, an Englishman whose deeds were to be heard and applauded by both The Fuehrer and Winston Churchill.
Hitler knew him as Little Fritz; the blue-eyed boy of the Abwher, the Nazi secret service and Churchill was impressed by his exploit, for he was spying for Britain, too, under the codename Agent Zigzag. Eddie Arnold Chapman was, a rising star in the Soho world of gangsters, and, in the twilight days of peace in early l939, a dark haired, handsome young man, destined it seemed, to spend many years behind bars.
He was a care rogue, a womaniser, a leading figure in the mob known as "The Jelly Gang" for their habit of using gelignite to blow safes. He could have been a prototype for 007 James Bond. His girlfriend was pregnant and he was with another woman when the police found him in the Channel Islands. He was captured, eventually and jailed, managed to rob the Governor and then the Germans invaded and he found himself in a Nazi prison camp outside Paris. He was already a bit of a linguist, having picked up basic German and French.
The harsh regime did not appeal so Chapman offered his services to the goose steppers; after lengthy Teutonic thought, the SS the Abwher decided he was genuine. They trained him to be one of their spies in England He graduated from a Nazi school for spies, in France with honours and made many friends, especially his boss, a somewhat aristocratic chap who kept him well supplied with cash. Chapman, naturally, quickly found that boss man was taking his cut from the thousands of Reich marks he was handing over. It takes a crook to know a crook.
The Cote d'Azur Men's Book Club thought Agent Zigzag by journalist Ben Macintyre a very entertaining read, a combination of Bond and Biggles. Fritz, parachuting at night and landing in a muddy Cambridgeshire field and naively banging on a farmhouse door and saying he had been in a car accident. MI5who turned him into their man picked him up. Money changed hands.
Fritz blowing up the De Havilland factory where the wonder plane, the Mosquito was made,
the staged attack being arranged by MI5 experts to fool the Germans.
The stubborn Englishness of the Editor of The Times in refusing to print an untruthful report, which would have fooled the enemy into believing Fritz, was doing good work. . Not a problem for the patriotic Daily Express!
Fritz still has that swashbuckling air about him, he returns to his German group leader and friend by sea, and seemingly reverts to the Nazi regime. Back in Germany and many more adventures, he finds love again in Norway with the beautiful Dagmar. Just as he arranged with MI5 to pay a good "pension" to his woman, so now he does the same for his new love, with the Germans!
He parachutes back into Britain with the brief to track down the new anti-U-boat weapon that is causing devastation to the wolf packs. Such a device only exists in the Nazi imagination, of course and the boffins think up a hilarious device that is pure Monty Python or The Goons, just to give the enemy something to think about. The secret weapon was, of course, the Bletchley Park code breaker.
Had the stakes not been so huge, Agent Zigzag would have been a biting satirical piece of work, yet, it is the gripping life story of courageous con man who reverted to type at war's end to thieving and safe breaking and, naturally, womanising. A crook, but our crook. As his MI5 boss said, "One of the bravest men I have ever met."
Oh, yes, and old Adolf probably thought much the same. Eddie Arnold Chapman was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class.
Chapman, born in the North East, was a charismatic crook made good by his courage and apparent indifference to personal suffering. He mixed with the great and the good but he was never a Gentleman, he was a spy who did a great service for his country in her time of need.
All, especially the ladies, loved him. It could have been men like Chapman who inspired a Naval Intelligence officer, one Ian Fleming, to create James Bond. Agent Zigzag did not have a licence to kill, officially, but he dreamed of assassinating Hitler!
on 12 September 2009
Extraorinary true story of WW2 agent, double agent
Eddy Chapman was the only Englishman to win an Iron Cross from Hitler for his services to German espionage - but was working for MI5 the whole time.
Thoroughly engrossing, a real-life romp: well-written, exciting and a whole side of war details I never imagined.
Even if you are not a war history nut (I'm not; the recommendation came from a friend who is) this is fascinating and a good read.
Would make an excellent holiday book: its enjoyable, you can pick it up and it doesn't need huge concentration (that is not meant as a criticism)