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A bucketful of adventure
on 3 September 2007
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.