Sunday, August 10, 2008

Agent Zigzag

I finished Ben Macintyre’s Agent Zigzag with relish! What a great story—a nonfiction work that truly earns its subtitle: Lover Traitor Hero Spy.

Eddie Chapman was a young career criminal (26 or so), imprisoned in Jersey, UK, when the Nazis occupied the island. Bored and hungry, he offered himself to the Germans as a spy, got crack training, and then, upon landing (by parachute) in England with a mission, thought better of it and offered himself to the English as a double agent.

The English ran him for about 2 years (1942-1944) and he played an important role in the war, spreading, for example, misinformation about the location and damage of the doodlebugs, Germany’s unmanned bombs that did such damage to London during the blitz.

It’s a gripping, fun story, somewhere between Hogan’s Heroes and James Bond—but true. Macintyre is a strong writer who never loses his narrative thread. There are many, many moments when he might have been waylaid by an interesting or distressing side story, but he keeps the plot moving and keeps us focused on Chapman. The prose is fine—good enough that, late in the book when he permits himself the execrable (but inevitable) Ian Fleming pun (Fleming, Ian Fleming), I didn’t just forgive, I laughed.

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