Summary and book reviews of Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre

Agent Zigzag

A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal

by Ben Macintyre

Agent Zigzag
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2008, 384 pages

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Book Summary

Eddie Chapman was a charming criminal, a con man, and a philanderer. He was also one of the most remarkable double agents Britain has ever produced. 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 persona ended and the other began.

In 1941, after training as a German spy in occupied France, Chapman was parachuted into Britain with a revolver, a wireless, and a cyanide pill, with orders from the Abwehr to blow up an airplane factory. Instead, he contacted MI5, the British Secret Service. For the next four years, Chapman worked as a double agent, a lone British spy at the heart of the German Secret Service who at one time volunteered to assassinate Hitler for his countrymen. Crisscrossing Europe under different names, all the while weaving plans, spreading disinformation, and, miraculously, keeping his stories straight under intense interrogation, he even managed to gain some profit and seduce beautiful women along the way.

The Nazis feted Chapman as a hero and awarded him the Iron Cross. In Britain, he was pardoned for his crimes, becoming the only wartime agent to be thus rewarded. Both countries provided for the mother of his child and his mistress. Sixty years after the end of the war, and ten years after Chapman’s death, MI5 has now declassified all of Chapman’s files, releasing more than 1,800 pages of top secret material and allowing the full story of Agent Zigzag to be told for the first time.

CHAPTER ONE
The Hotel de la Plage

Spring came early to the island of Jersey in 1939. The sun that poured through the dining-room window of the Hotel de la Plage formed a dazzling halo around the man sitting opposite Betty Farmer with his back to the sea, laughing as he tucked into the six-shilling Sunday Roast Special “with all the trimmings.” Betty, eighteen, a farm girl newly escaped from the Shropshire countryside, knew this man was quite unlike any she had met before.

Beyond that, her knowledge of Eddie Chapman was somewhat limited. She knew that he was twenty-four years old, tall and handsome, with a thin mustache—just like Errol Flynn in The Charge of the Light Brigade—and deep hazel eyes. His voice was strong but high-pitched with a hint of a Northern accent. He was “bubbly,” full of laughter and mischief. She knew he must be rich because he was “in the film business” and drove a Bentley. He wore expensive suits, a gold ring, ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

More thrilling than most spy thrillers and a lot more incredible, Macintyre's tale of Agent Zigzag's wartime adventures is a must read!   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (831 words).

Media Reviews

New York Times

[Agent Zigzag’s] incredible wartime adventures, recounted in Ben Macintyre’s rollicking, spellbinding Agent Zigzag blend the spy-versus-spy machinations of John le Carré with the high farce of Evelyn Waugh.

Entertainment Weekly

Macintyre [relates] his compellingly cinematic spy thriller with verve.

Publishers Weekly

Meticulously researched—relying extensively on recently released wartime files of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service—Macintyre's biography often reads like a spy thriller.

Kirkus Reviews

One of the great true spy stories of World War II, vividly rendered.

The Spectator (UK)

If Ben Macintyre had presented this story as a novel, it would have been denounced as far too unlikely: yet every word of it is true. Moreover he has that enviable gift, the inability to write a dull sentence. An enthralling book results from the opening up of once deadly secret files.

The Times (London)

Macintyre succeeds in bringing Chapman vividly to life. It is unlikely that a more engaging study of espionage and deception will be published this year.

Daily Express (UK)

Speaking as a former MI6 officer, take it from me: there are very few books which give you a genuine picture of what it feels like to be a spy. This is one…. an enthralling war story.

Mail on Sunday (UK)

This is the most amazing book, full of fascinating and hair-raising true-life adventures…and beautifully told. For anyone interested in the Second World War, spying, romance, skullduggery or the hidden chambers of the human mind, it would be impossible to recommend it too highly.

The Sunday Times (UK)

Splendidly vivid. . . . There are endless delightful twists to the tale.

Author Blurb John le Carré
Superb. Meticulously researched, splendidly told, immensely entertaining and often very moving.

Author Blurb Alan Furst
Agent Zigzag is a true-history thriller, a real spy story superbly written. It belongs to my favorite genre: the ‘Friday night book’–start it then, because you will want to stay with it all weekend.

Reader Reviews

Lynn

Very interesting read
Could this have been the original inspiration for James Bond? Maybe, but not probable. However, Eddie Chapman is someone you admire for his incredible bravery and pull for throughout the book, but wouldn't trust with your personal possessions. I ...   Read More

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Did you know?

  • After the war, Chapman dumped his various girlfriends and went back to pre-war lover Betty Farmer, who he last saw as he hurriedly extricated himself from dinner with her in order to escape the Jersey police in 1938. Their daughter, Suzanne, was born in 1954, and the Chapmans set up a health farm at Shenley Lodge in Hertfordshire (south of England), which was apparently a popular meeting place for movie stars and the Freemasons. Later, it was the settings for ...

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