Incredible true tale of World War II double agent

From 'The Times'
From ‘The Times’

It was Mark Twain who said that “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t”. Never has this held true more than in the case of Eddie Chapman, a figure whose story is so impossible, that MI5 stated that his tale was “different. In fiction it would be rejected as improbable”. In Agent Zigzag, Ben Macintyre has woven together the threads of a story which brings an entirely new level to the word ‘unbelievable’. It could be a blockbuster Hollywood spy film, complete with near constant explosions. But it’s not-because it’s all true, Chapman was probably the most successful British double agent in the war, and one of the best in history.

The story begins with a “tall and handsome” twenty-four year old dining in Jersey in 1939, before the outbreak of war with a girl named Betty. Then he jumps out a window. Thus the spectacular story has a spectacular start to match, a scene which brings to mind once again a film (particularly Snape from Harry Potter). Chapman gets arrested after doing a light spot of robbery, escapes a bit, does some more robbing, before the Germans invade. At which point Chapman volunteers to work for them. Thus begins his engrossing career in espionage, the Germans prized him as their best man in the field-Agent Fritz. As could have been guessed from the cover however, Chapman dabbles with various employers, as any working man may, before settling on one. He is forever walking a tightrope, and his restless nature gets him into trouble more than once.

A combination of the war in general and the immense pressure bring the best out of Chapman, due to what I (as an armchair doctor) feel is an addiction to the buzz of adrenaline-before the war the only way to get that feeling was crime, robbery-now, it’s knowing that he could be shot on the spot at any time by either side. Working as a spy is stressful. Working as a double agent will either crush a man or show him in a new light, as a hero.

Macintyre narrates the biography in a gripping style, the facts are all presented, yet in a manner which breeds a book which is as exciting as any thriller, and as true as any biography on the market-a bestselling formula. This man may well have been part of the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond, a dashing womaniser who appears to have a skewered moral code-except for his outstanding devotion to his country.

Was Eddie Chapman an Errol Flynn lookalike? From Wikimedia Commons
Several noted Chapman’s similarity to Errol Flynn (pictured) lookalike? From Wikimedia Commons

Macintyre is not devoted to Chapman, he can recognise his faults, when he is cold, rash, foolish, and makes mistakes, he doesn’t make the mistake of some historical authors of trying to make Chapman an idol. He isn’t. However, his actions throughout the war though showed immense courage and bravery, and his loyalty to his country appeared unbreakable. Idol no. Hero yes. In ambiguous cases, Macintyre gives both sides of the story, and lets the reader choose their own view, an admirable method of narration.

The only thing which I was not so keen on was the prologue, which felt unnecessary and took away from the actual opening in the restaurant. My moan is, however, only a very minor one, and the rest of the story was told in a captivatingly brilliant way.

Narrative voice-a tale which Macintyre has weaved enthrallingly to captivate and thrill, and which does its purpose beautifully and captivatingly-★★★★★

Readability-aside from the prologue, this book was, quite simply, fantastic, impossible to put down-★★★★★

Overall-incredible, fantastic, true tale of a hero of the British Empire who deserves more recognition. Macintyre presents the facts, and lets the reader make their own judgement on Chapman’s loyalties and motivations-★★★★★ (100)

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7 thoughts on “Incredible true tale of World War II double agent

      1. Thank you very much! I’ve started it off as a sort of writing scrapbook, and then it slowly turned to a mostly book review blog. It’s just that when I get curious about something, it’s hard to stop writing/researching! 🙂 This is why I have a few posts on jewelry and tv-shows, a few other random ones in the drafts… I’m really glad you liked the female athletes piece. The stats I read about female athletes were absolutely shocking for me. Obviously, I would have expected disparities in some countries, but 95 to 5… That’s just beyond me, especially knowing, that the coverage of the same sports, and the same female athletes could be close to equal during Olympics season. Oh, I didn’t mention I freelance as a sports journalist :). This is a topic I’m definitely going to keep an eye on, it’s really interesting for me because it blends sports, gender issues and a dose of communications as well. That’s one long comment, had to contain myself! 🙂

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