Book Review: “Agent Zigzag” by Ben Macintyre

Eddie Chapman is Agent Zigzag, the central character in this double-agent intrigues between the intelligence agencies of Germany and Britain during World War II; he’s a likable character, but a scoundrel nevertheless. This is a fine book and a fun read if you’re into spy novels especially around World War II.

Spoiler alert: don’t read below if you plan to read the book after all.

Key Takeaways:

– Eddie Chapman, in his 20’s, committed a crime (among his many offenses) and was put in Jersy Island (near France) prison. When the entire island was invaded by Germany, he offered to spy for Germany to get himself out of the prison. He was probably selected because of his charm and his ability in making and handling bombs. He then trained under this guy, Stephan von Groning, training him to become a spy to sabotage the Mosquito plane facility, a facility manufacturing the annoying wooden, undetectable planes. He parachuted in the farm fields and actually contacted MI5, the British secret agency during the war. The agency eventually and reluctantly hired him as a double agent to spy on the Germen. With the help of a magician, he and the MI5 faked an explosion of the “Mosquito” factory. This won Chapman some trust from the Germans and eventually with a great effort returned to Germany, then Oslo where the secret agency relocated. He reunited with von Groning and enjoyed a nice time off and hooked up with his new Norwegian girlfriend. At this time, Norway has fallen into German’s hand and his girlfriend was one of the underground rebel organization. Chapmen eventually came back to England as the World War II drew to a close.
– The intrigues of the story lie in how Chapman won the trust of both sides: Britain, his main loyalty and German, where his “friends” were. The conflicts within him must be hard to manage.
– Chapman seemed to fit the profile of a secret agent, intelligent with criminal history and little to lose and eager to please. To survive, he volunteered to become an agent for German when German invaded Jersy island where he was serving his sentence.
– Intricacy of wireless radio code transmission was described in good details. How he made a mistake in the beginning, forgot to code in the preemble of “FFFFFF” code to indicate he’s still on the German side, not captured by the British. This misstep did not cause any trouble for him.
– Chapman became financially successful after the war, probably through illegal means, as it’s probably the only way he knew how.
– There were many characters in the story including his 3 girlfriends and his “handlers” when he was spying for both sides. Characters were well developed considering the entire story happened more than 60 years ago.
– What would Eddie Chapman be if he were to live in today’s era instead of during World War II? The war turned a people like Chapman into a hero.