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Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre February 5, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words.

As a closeted history geek, I think I should warn the normals away from Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal.  It reads like a spy thriller, yet almost all of it is quotes from official sources, first-hand recollections of the participants or at least second-hand remembrances.  It’s first-rate historical scholarship largely from official declassified MI5 documents, and it’s deeply pleasant to read.  Normals, be warned:  if you read this, you might develop a taste for history books.  Once you start down this path, forever will it guide your literary destiny.

I devoured this as an audiobook (Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal, Narrated By John Lee, 9 Cds [Complete & Unabridged Audio Work] ) over the course of my commute (four or so days), but found myself dawdling in the parking lot a lot longer than usual, just for the pleasure of it all.  John Lee’s reading is very sympathetic and adds a lot to the experience

Agent Zigzag was Eddie Chapman, a charming rogue who seduced and blackmailed middle-class Englishwomen (and possibly men), blew open the occasional safe and was due for a fourteen-year prison sentence. Imprisoned but about to be released from a Jersey jail for a lesser offense he was saved from English justice by the timely invasion of Jersey by the Germans in the early part of their war with England.  The local authorities released Chapman and left him to his own devices.

Given the nature of his character, that could have been a terrible mistake.

And it looks bad for Chapman when he offered to spy for the Germans.  They eventually took him up on it and trained him in sabotage, finally parachuting him into England to sabotage the de Havilland Mosquito bomber plant. He went straight to the authorities and offered to double-cross his German spymaster, whom he had come to regard as a friend.

There’s a great deal more than this to the story, but I will not tell; go read this book (unless you want to stay normal).  It’s a delightfully complicated tale and well told.  I really do recommend the audiobook, and much less the inaccurate but entertaining movie loosely based on him Triple Cross with Christopher Plummer, whom I expect to start singing “Eidelweiss’” at any moment (but there is an excellent bit at the end where Yul Brynner commits suicide with charming aplomb).


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