One December night in 1942, a Nazi parachutist landed in a Cambridgeshire field. His mission: to sabotage the British war effort.
His name was Eddie Chapman, but he would shortly become MI5’s Agent Zigzag. Dashing and suave, courageous and unpredictable, Chapman was by turns a traitor, a hero, a villain and a man of conscience. But, as his spymasters and many lovers often wondered, who was the real Eddie Chapman?
Ben Macintyre weaves together diaries, letters, photographs, memories and top-secret MI5 files to create an exhilarating account of Britain’s most sensational double agent.
Author: Ben Macintyre
Narrator: Peter Wickham
Audio Release Date: 24th June 2021
Running Time: 11hrs 1 min
Genre: Historical Non-Fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
My Rating of ‘Agent Zigzag’: 5 out of 5
I’ve never really been one to go in for shows or books about World War 2. History is one of my great loves in life, but when we were at school WW2 was the only history we ever learned about. Due to that, it lost its appeal to me when looking to learn about history in my spare time. That being said, my father was a massive reader and serial show-watcher where WW2 was concerned. Since his passing, I decided to give one of his keen interests a look and I’m absolutely thrilled I did where Agent Zigzag is concerned.
Spies, double agents and the shady secrecy of the secret service is the stuff of every young kid’s imagination when it comes to the war (when you get past the tanks, explosions and all-out atrocities being committed during that dreadful time). It’s the ‘sexy’ side of war that birthed a whole genre of spy novels and films, giving us characters like James Bond from Flemming’s novels. So it’s that side of things I thought I’d dip my toe into and see if the time period was for me.
Overall, I think just learning about stuff I had never known about is what gets me intrigued in history. And, let’s be honest, if there’s a thing I’m (and most other people) aren’t going to know about it’s anything that was branded top secret for long periods of time. Before this book I’d never heard of Eddie Chapman/Agent Zigzag. The author himself had even heard of the man before stumbling across his obituary.
I’ll start by saying that Chapman was not really a likeable man. He wasn’t the sort you could get behind in a novel and root for him to get everything he wants. At his core, Eddie Chapman was a criminal, a serial cheater where romantic partners were concerned and somewhat of a conman. He was, as most who knew him would claim, a very honest crook and a man who didn’t like violence. He was described as being loyal to the job, but more than happy to rob his employers blind whilst working for them. He also described himself as having no regret or remorse over any of his actions in life.
He began working for the Nazi’s solely as a way to get himself out of occupied territory and back to England. During his time with the Germans he made some long-lasting friends that he genuinely felt bad for having to double cross. One of these ended up being a life-long friend after the war, which is a kind of nice point to take away from such horrors and misery of WW2.
The book describes his actions for both sides, how he conned the Germans into believing all sorts of things in order to aid the Allied war effort and the vast amounts of trysts and love interests he had across the continent. Agent Zigzag, so named for his erratic nature, was an incredibly interesting individual and was fascinating to learn about. He’s the kind of moral grey character that most novels aspire to create and fall woefully short in doing.
This book also shows the inner-workings of MI5 and the absolutely wonderful people that staffed the secret service at the time. Some of them are such characters that it’s hard to believe they were real. The inspiration for ‘Q’ from the James Bond series can be found within these pages. It also shows their failings, as well. One particular blunder was so elementary, and so serious, that it beggars belief it even happened.
The author did an excellent job of piecing together Chapman’s career from letters, documents etc … and compiled everything in an easy to follow and incredibly easy to enjoy way. I was genuinely upset that it wasn’t twice as long as it was, so intent was my interest.
I certainly think I’ll be diving further into the WW2 spy scene with Ben Macintyre’s other books.
Peter Wickham’s narration of this was absolutely faultless. His voice fit the piece perfectly. I can only hope he narrates the other works by Macintyre.