British journalist Ben Macintyre’s biography
, Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal
(2007), chronicles the story of Eddie Chapman, an Englishman who served as a German spy for the Nazis before becoming a double agent for the British Secret Service. Due to his erratic behavior and personality, Chapman's British intelligence handlers nicknamed him "Agent Zigzag." According to The New York Times
, "Ben Macintyre's rollicking, spellbinding Agent Zigzag blends the spy-versus-spy machinations of John le Carré with the high farce of Evelyn Waugh."
Macintyre begins in late 1942, when twenty-eight-year-old Chapman is already a German spy on his way to Britain where he plans to sabotage the de Havilland Aircraft Factory. British intelligence, however, is already aware of Chapman's status as a spy after intercepting and decrypting German messages using recently cracked Enigma codes. Chapman's code name is Fritz, the all-purpose slur used by the British to refer to Germans. Chapman parachutes to the ground before realizing he has somehow lost his map to the factory he is supposed to sabotage.
The narrative then rewinds to 1939, depicting Chapman's life as a young hoodlum. He belongs to a group of small-time criminals known as "The Jelly Gang," so named because they use blasting gel to crack open safes. While he is pathologically criminal, Chapman never uses violence. After a botched job that results in an explosion at the Edinburgh Co-operative Society, Chapman is arrested. While out on bail, Chapman and the rest of the gang flee to Jersey in the Channel Islands. Great Britain sends undercover police to arrest and extradite the Jelly Gang. While dining with his future wife, Betty Farmer, Chapman crashes through a window to escape the authorities. To avoid having to serve fourteen years in a British prison, Chapman commits a fast and sloppy robbery with the intent of being arrested and serving time in Jersey rather than on the mainland.
After a year in prison, the Germans invade the Channel Islands. In hopes of getting off the island, Chapman and his fellow inmate, Anthony Faramus, apply to become German spies. The prisoners are transported to a Nazi prison and transit camp in France. Though not a death camp, prisoners are routinely executed at random. Fortunately for Chapman, the German intelligence service Abwehr sends down orders to have him recruited as a spy. The Nazis bring Chapman to Nantes where he meets Captain Stefan von Groning. Von Groning warns Chapman that if he turns himself into the British, he will be forced to serve his prison sentence for earlier criminal activities. Moreover, he threatens to kill his friend, Faramus, if Chapman does not cooperate.
Over the next few weeks, Chapman is trained in weapons and the art of sabotage by “the Professor.” When Chapman's attempted attack on the de Havilland Factory goes awry, he turns himself into the local authorities, whom British intelligence has already informed of Chapman's presence. Once in MI5 custody, Chapman offers up as much information as he can about German intelligence. Little of what he says is new to the agents, but they use the information to line it up with what they already know in order to prove Chapman is bona fide.
With the help of stage magician Jasper Maskelyne, British intelligence sets up an elaborate ruse to make the de Havilland Factory appear heavily damaged to German reconnaissance planes. The plan is a success, and Chapman becomes von Groning's favorite spy. After another faked attack on a merchant ship in Portugal, the Germans send Chapman to Nazi-occupied Norway where he poses as a teacher in Oslo. While there, he photographs German officers and transmits the photos to the British. He also falls in love with the Norwegian resistance fighter Dagmar Lahlum. For the rest of the war, Chapman has two lovers, each one in a different opposing warzone: Dagmar in Norway and Freda Stevenson in England.
The Germans send Chapman back to England. He provides the Germans with false reports of V1 rocket landing locations, causing them to adjust their aim incorrectly. During this time, Chapman fails to keep a sufficiently low profile, getting himself involved in greyhound race doping scandals and other criminal exploits. On November 2, 1944, MI5 dismisses Chapman, pardoning him for his pre-war criminal activities and paying him six thousand pounds.
After the war, Chapman marries neither Dagmar nor Freda, but Betty Farmer, the woman he abandoned in Jersey when he leaped out the window to escape the police. He even stays in touch with von Groning, inviting his former Abwehr handler to his daughter Suzanne's wedding. Chapman dies in 1997 of heart failure at the age of eighty-three. The book ends with Chapman and von Groning, both old men now, singing together in a garden.Agent Zigzag
is an adventure story so surprising and absurd, it's amazing that it is true.