Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Gentleman Spy: Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre

Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre

Okay, this one is total Dad-bait, but Macintyre's account of Eddie Chapman, a small time crook, safe blower, and Lothario turned double agent, is one of those thrilling true stories that actually reads like fiction.

While being held in a German prison camp in France, Chapman's criminal past and vocal hatred of Britain attracted the attention of the Abwehr. He was recruited and trained as a Nazi spy, and dropped into the English countryside with a radio, British currency, a cyanide capsule, and a mission to destroy a British aircraft factory. He'd warmed to his Abwehr mentors, and they to him; as far as they knew, Chapman was a loyal Nazi spy.

However, the first thing Chapman did when he landed was to surrender to the British Secret Service. And the MI-5 had plans for him.

What makes the book so captivating is the complexity of Chapman's character. He was, before the war, an uneducated crook, yet he never failed to charm and enchant those who met him. When deciding what to do with the captured Chapman, a Secret Service agent asked Chapman's old buddy filmmaker Terence Young (who would go on to direct three Bond movies) for a character reference.

Young told him, "One could give him the most difficult of missions knowing that he would carry it out and that he would never betray the official who sent him, but that it was highly probably that he would, incidentally, rob the official who sent him out."

If he'd been born in another time, who knows what would have become of Eddie Chapman? But war, which frequently makes monsters of men, gave Chapman's considerable talent for treachery and deception a legitimate outlet, and arguably, turned him into a hero.

If you like...: the spy novels of John Le Carre or Ken Follett (especially The Eye of the Needle, which resonates more than a little with the details of Chapman's life), this book is for you.

4 comments:

watershed said...

thanks! I needed another gift for my dad and this this sounds perfect!

mary_m said...

Glad to help out! I think my dad would have liked it, too, but by the time I heard about the book, I'd already gotten him a present!

Larry said...

Hi there.... I'm having some trouble with my Christmas list. Have you ever found yourself asking: "What do you get the zombie who has everything?" Well I do. Any hints?

Lucy B. said...

Agent Zigzag is a great fast read. I couldn't put it down. Eddie Chapman had a lot of guts as well as charisma - what a character!