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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 December 2007
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.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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!
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on 5 February 2007
This book was a most approachable war-book. Written with a light but highly informed touch it explored the complex character of a man of infinite resourch and cunning, not to mention raw courage coupled with a refined sense of fun and the ridiculous. The shortcomings of both the British and German secret services in 1939-1945 were displayed but the British did have the edge. That the double agent, Cameron, was highly decorated in Germany but ignored in the UK was a symbol of the remnants of a rigid class system which could not accept that a "common" man was capable of the exploits so faithfully reported. For sheer entertainment and un-put-down-ability, you could not do better.
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on 27 April 2016
By the time war broke out, Eddie Chapman was a seasoned criminal. He was a member of one of the first gelignite gangs, and by a series of coincidences, he was in prison on Jersey when the Germans occupied the island. This was the start of a series of almost unbelievable events that took Eddie all over Europe.

I loved 'A Spy among Friends' and although I didn't enjoy this quite so much, it is still pretty good. Kim Philby was an enigmatic character, whose motives were often unclear, but Eddie Chapman always looked out for himself. This, and his experiences in the criminal underworld, actually made him an effective spy. What makes this a gripping read is the quality of the writing. It is meticulously researched, but the author doesn't let this weigh down the story, which moves along at a cracking pace. He's also very good at drawing out people's motives, and although he doesn't quite succeed in making Eddie Chapman likeable, he definitely helps us to understand him and feel some sympathy for him.
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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)
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 11 February 2015
This is fascinating reading. It is the story of Eddie Chapman, a small time crook and con man, who becomes a secret agent during the war - convincing the Germans that he is working for them undercover in England whilst really working for the British all along. It is difficult to believe that this is real but the author has done his homework and although it is difficult to know what impact, if any, Chapman had on the overall war effort his story makes for gripping reading.

You really get a feeling from this book of the excitement that some agents felt in doing the work that they did and also of the danger that they placed themselves in. Chapman was obviously a man who thrived on adventure and deceit but it is also obvious that he had a real sense of patriotism and a desire to contribute to the war effort. This book is full of interesting characters on both the German and the British sides and the author presents them all as real people with human motives rather than stereotypes who are all good or all bad. The events at the end of Chapman's career in the Secret Service and how is treated, mostly because of his class, are very sad.

Chapman was a rogue, a petty criminal, a thief and a womaniser and he behaved the same before, during and after the war. I felt that the author rather minimised some of this behaviour in order to elicit sympathy and understanding for his main character. Chapman's war record speaks for itself - whatever his motives he was prepared to serve his country by acting as a double agent and by living in Germany during the war and reporting back to Britain - you can see by what happens to some of his compatriots that this is a very risky life.

Chapman rather reminds me of Oskar Schindler in Thomas Keneally's "Schinder's Ark" - he is a weak man who often does things which are unacceptable but when the time comes to take a stand he is prepared to take risks and put himself in peril for others and for his country. I really wonder what each of us would have done in Chapman's situation ?
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on 11 September 2007
There are times when reading this book, when one would be forgiven for thinking that this is a work of fiction. The stories come thick and fast and for this reason alone it is well worth a read. The really interesting piece, I found, was the description of the relationship that developed between the spy and his handlers. Complex, confused, ever changing and fascinating as each fought to keep the upper hand in an dynamic and unpredictable environment. Well worth the read.
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