Edward Chapman, the man whose story Ben McIntyre has set out to tell in Agent Zigzag.
Eddie Chapman is a flamboyant, complicated character who spent much of his life on the wrong side of the law. He is also, incredibly, one of the most successful double agents ever to operate for British intelligence. This seeming dichotomy of character makes for a fascinating read.
When the story opens, he is involved in a gang of safe crackers implicated in a string of robberies in Britain. He winds up incarcerated on the island of Jersey when World War 2 breaks out and the island is captured by Nazi Germany. In a fairly ill-conceived bid to gain freedom, Chapman volunteers his services as a spy for the Germans.
He is eventually recruited and trained by the Abwehr to carry out sabotage missions within Britain. His background as a criminal made him a particularly appealing candidate as a spy to the Germans. Analysis suggested he was likely to feel ill-treated by the British and, as a result, less inclined to turn sides once released into Britain. Also, his expertise with using explosives to crack safes could be harnessed for more sinister purposes. Of course, Chapman, a consummate liar, did everything possible to reinforce these ideas.
Following a period of rigorous training, Chapman parachutes into Britain in the dead of night with orders to blow up an airplane production plant. Instead of proceeding as planned, he heads straight to MI5 to volunteer as a double agent working for British intelligence! While he is at first greeted with surprise and distrust, the British eventually realize what a useful tool they might have at their disposal.
Most of the account details his retraining by the British and subsequent missions working for both sides in Germany, Norway, and Britain. Chapman, though brilliant, is prone to wild mood swings, fits of bravado, and bouts of romanticism. This kind of behavior has his British and German handlers constantly on edge and questioning his motives--both sides are constantly confronted with the question of whether he is worth all the fuss.
Agent Zigzag is a highly compelling account of an almost larger-than-life personality. At times, it is difficult to believe that Chapman's story is not fiction!