Agent Zigzag A true story of Nazi espionage, love, and betrayal

Ben Macintyre, 1963-

Book - 2007

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New York : Harmony Books c2007.
Main Author
Ben Macintyre, 1963- (-)
1st American ed
Item Description
Originally published: London : Bloomsbury, c2007.
Physical Description
xii, 364 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (p. [311]-351) and index.
Contents unavailable.
Review by New York Times Review

IN an author's note at the beginning of "The Pirate's Daughter," Margaret Cezair-Thompson promises her readers a "tropical adventure." She evokes spectacular shipwrecks and deserted islands, infamous buccaneers and glamorous celebrities. And the story that follows makes good on these promises. The novel fictionalizes an episode in the life of Errol Flynn, the scandal-plagued, womanizing movie star whose sailboat capsized off the coast of Jamaica during a hurricane in 1946. Beginning with this very real drama, Cezair-Thompson tells the tale of two imagined women: a beautiful Jamaican teenager Flynn seduces during his time on the island and the daughter she bears him but whom he never cares to know. Cezair-Thompson's objective is, she claims, to give voice to those whose absence she'd always felt in the 18th- and 19th-century adventures she'd been fascinated by in her childhood. Noting that "there weren't any Jamaicans in those stories," she suggests that "The Pirate's Daughter" represents, at least in part, an attempt to right this wrong. Set mainly on Navy Island, a previously uninhabited islet near the town of Port Antonio that was actually once owned by Flynn, the novel invents the stories of Ida Joseph, Flynn's star-struck teenage paramour, and Ida's daughter, May Josephine Flynn, the child born of their affair. Ida's humiliating and selfdestructive passion for Flynn is at the heart of a narrative that focuses on a host of romantic minidramas involving the glamorous expatriates who make up Flynn's entourage. Engaged in a love-hate relationship with Jamaica and its people, these bored, wealthy foreigners drink to excess and cultivate small feuds. And, it turns out, a good number of them also hope to seduce Ida - and later her daughter. Disappointingly, neither Ida nor May manages to escape this typecasting as the exotic other, the object of desire. Despite her mother's efforts to keep her from growing up "vain and stupid," Ida often seems just that, using her youth and beauty to seduce Flynn and later his friend, an Austrian baron, since only their attentions "fit the regal idea she had of herself." Her infatuation with Flynn, rather than illuminating the emptiness of his world, merely flattens into a frustrating and predictable portrait of unreflective narcissism, both his and hers. Ida's daughter, May, fares little better. Though less conceited than her mother, she grows up to become equally preoccupied by the jet setters and longs to find a place in their midst. At one point, while dating the flashy son of a British aristocrat, she allows herself to gloat : "Here she finally had a boyfriend, not just any boyfriend but one of the most desirable, popular boys around. She was being invited to go places. ... It was very gratifying to be known as Martin Fitzwilliam-Grey's girlfriend." When Martin sleeps with May, proposes marriage, but then dumps her because she's "colored and illegitimate," it's hard to summon much pity for her. What little the reader-does feel is further dissipated when May becomes involved with Martin's father, a man 40 years her senior. Ida and May and the foreigners in Flynn's circle are too self-absorbed to be sympathetic or even particularly interesting. And the other Jamaican characters - whose stories are far less salacious, less glamorous - serve mainly to suggest certain background issues. The treatment of Ida's dark-skinned mother, the common-law wife of Ida's Lebanese father, raises the subject of class and colorconsciousness in the Caribbean. Reggae culture is represented by May's childhood friend Derek. Ida's grandmother is a Maroon, a member of a community whose ancestors were runaway slaves. While to some extent these characters layer and complicate Cezair-Thompson's fictional universe, they remain on the fringes of the narrative. As May grows up, the novel moves into the early years of Jamaica's independence, a period of great political unrest. But although this turbulence comes increasingly to the fore, even providing the catalyst for the novel's denouement, it arrives too late to lift the story from its mundane preoccupations. This soap-operatic portrayal of Jamaican women falls far short of Cezair-Thompson's goal. If indeed this is a tale about women scorned and, by extension, about a people scorned - unheard by history - then one might wish for those women to be of greater substance. Ultimately, though, the characters in "The Pirate's Daughter" are much like Navy Island itself. They exist at a remove, so absorbed in their fantasy-driven interactions with one another that they fail to take notice of the wider world. They seem content, to borrow Ida's description of herself, "to be there and alluring like the view, like the sea." Kaiama L Glover teaches French literature at Barnard College.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [October 27, 2009]
Review by Booklist Review

Macintyre's book is due in November. It's nearly 100 pages shorter than Booth's and therefore moves at a brisker pace. The author, who first heard of Eddie when he read his obituary, relies mostly on official documents and private papers; whereas wife Betty Chapman was Booth's collaborator, in Macintyre's book, she's merely another source. The book is less personal than Booth's; it reads more like an official history. It should also be noted that Macintyre's book may be the more precise of the two: where Booth says Eddie hailed from the town of Burnup Field, Macintyre has it as Burnopfield, and it appears Macintyre's spelling is the correct one. Similarly, Booth gives Eddie's full name as Arnold Edward Chapman, while Macintyre has it as Edward Arnold Chapman; again, Macintyre appears to be correct. (Although it should be noted that these and other discrepancies in Booth's book could be due to proofreading errors, and not mistakes of fact.)--Pitt, David Copyright 2007 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

London Times associate editor Macintyre (The Man Who Would Be King) adroitly dissects the enigmatic World War II British double agent Eddie Chapman in this intriguing and balanced biography. Giving "little thought" to the morality of his decision, Chapman offered to work as a spy for the Germans in 1940 after his release from an English prison in the Channel Islands, then occupied by the Germans. After undergoing German military intelligence training, Chapman parachuted into England in December 1942 with instructions to sabotage a De Havilland aircraft factory, but he surrendered after landing safely. Doubled by MI5 (the security service responsible for counterespionage), Chapman was used "to feed vital disinformation to the enemy" and was one of the few double agents "to delude their German handlers until the end of the war." Meticulously researched-relying extensively on recently released wartime files of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service-Macintyre's biography often reads like a spy thriller. In the end, the author concludes that Chapman "repeatedly risked his life... [and] provided invaluable intelligence," but "it was never clear whether he was on the side of the angels or the devils." Of the two Zigzag biographies this fall (the other, by Nicholas Booth, is reviewed below), this is clearly superior. (Oct. 9) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Sixty years after his incredible career as a double agent for the British, Eddie Chapman (1914-97) is the subject of two new books charting his experiences as one of World War II's most amazing spies. A cad, bounder, womanizer, safe cracker, and general bad guy before the war, Chapman was in a jail on the Channel Island of Jersey awaiting trial when the Germans took over the island and decided that he might make a good spy for them. After training in Germany, he was parachuted back into England to blow up an airfield. Instead, he immediately turned himself into the authorities and cooperated with MI5 (the UK's security intelligence agency) as one of England's double agents. The Germans were fooled into thinking that Chapman had indeed destroyed the airfield and rewarded him upon his return to Germany with the Iron Cross. Sent back to England, Chapman spent the latter part of the war giving incorrect information to the Germans about the success of their V-1 and V-2 rockets. He wired inaccurate coordinates to the German rocket launch crews who then sent their rockets to places of minor importance, causing little damage. Chapman wrote his own account in 1966, and a movie about his life titled Triple Cross appeared in 1967. Both Booth and Macintyre tap many of the same original sources, and both interviewed Chapman's widow for their respective accounts. Of the two accounts, Macintyre (associate editor, the London Times; The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan) displays a surer hand on the overall historiography of wartime spying and probably has an edge. But Booth, whose career has been in broadcasting and journalism, is a skilled writer who manages to weave Chapman's complex story into a readable volume that both entertains and informs. Chapman's wartime exploits would be unbelievable were they not verified by many sober debriefing accounts residing in numerous MI5 files available to any who want to look. Large public and academic libraries should purchase if budgets allow, but if they need to choose, they should pick Macintyre. Chapman's is a most unusual story that will intrigue most readers.-Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A preternaturally talented liar and pretty good safecracker becomes a "spy prodigy" working concurrently for Britain's MI5 and the Nazi's Abwehr. London Times newsman and popular historian Macintyre (The Man Who Would be King: The First American in Afghanistan, 2004, etc) reports on the life and crimes of the late Eddie Chapman using interviews, newly released secret files and, cautiously, the English spy's less-reliable memoirs. Just launching his criminal career when World War II began, the dashing adventurer was jailed in the Channel Island Jersey. Volunteering his services to the occupying Fatherland, he was taken to France and schooled in the dark arts of espionage and the wicked devices of spies by the likes of convivial headmaster Herr von Gröning and spymaster Oberleutnant Praetorius. Then the new German agent signed a formal espionage contract (under which his expected rewards were to be subjected to income tax). Dropped in England's green and pleasant land to commit sabotage, he instead reported directly to His Majesty's secret service. There they called their man "Agent ZigZag." The Germans had named him "Fritzchen." Little Fritz, with the help of a magician, fooled his Nazi handlers into believing he had wrecked an aircraft factory. After a crafty return to Germany, he made another parachute drop home to report on an anti-sub device and the accuracy of the new V-1 flying bomb. The energetic adventurer from a lower stratum of British society was being run by Oxbridge gentlemen and by aristocrats of Deutschland at the same time. Or perhaps he was running them. Adorning his exploits were several beautiful women and an Iron Cross. It is a remarkable cloak-and-dagger procedural and a fine tale of unusual wartime employment. Based on the same material, another first-rate text (Nicholas Booth's ZigZag, 2007) with much the same Hitchcockian contortions qualifies as an exciting black-and-white spy thriller. Macintyre's version is in full color. One of the great true spy stories of World War II, vividly rendered. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

CHAPTER ONE The Hotel de la Plage Spring came early to the island of Jersey in 1939. The sun that poured through the dining-room window of the Hotel de la Plage formed a dazzling halo around the man sitting opposite Betty Farmer with his back to the sea, laughing as he tucked into the six-shilling Sunday Roast Special "with all the trimmings." Betty, eighteen, a farm girl newly escaped from the Shropshire countryside, knew this man was quite unlike any she had met before. Beyond that, her knowledge of Eddie Chapman was somewhat limited. She knew that he was twenty-four years old, tall and handsome, with a thin mustache--just like Errol Flynn in The Charge of the Light Brigade--and deep hazel eyes. His voice was strong but high-pitched with a hint of a Northern accent. He was "bubbly," full of laughter and mischief. She knew he must be rich because he was "in the film business" and drove a Bentley. He wore expensive suits, a gold ring, and a cashmere overcoat with mink collar. Today he wore a natty yellow spotted tie and a sleeveless pullover. They had met at a club in Kensington Church Street, and although at first she had declined his invitation to dance, she soon relented. Eddie had become her first lover, but then he vanished, saying he had urgent business in Scotland. "I shall go," he told her. "But I shall always come back." Good as his word, Eddie had suddenly reappeared at the door of her lodgings, grinning and breathless. "How would you like to go to Jersey, then possibly to the south of France?" he asked. Betty had rushed off to pack. It was a surprise to discover they would be traveling with company. In the front seat of the waiting Bentley sat two men: the driver a huge, ugly brute with a crumpled face; the other small, thin, and dark. The pair did not seem ideal companions for a romantic holiday. The driver gunned the engine and they set off at thrilling speed through the London streets, screeching into the Croydon airport, parking behind the hangar, just in time to catch the Jersey Airways plane. That evening, they had checked into the seafront hotel. Eddie told the receptionist they were in Jersey to make a film. They had signed the register as Mr. and Mrs. Farmer of Torquay. After dinner, they moved on to West Park Pavilion, a nightclub on the pier, where they danced, played roulette, and drank some more. For Betty, it had been a day of unprecedented glamour and decadence. War was coming, everyone said so, but the dining room of the Hotel de la Plage was a place of pure peace that sunny Sunday. Beyond the golden beach, the waves flickered among a scatter of tiny islands, as Eddie and Betty ate trifle off plates with smart blue crests. Eddie was halfway through telling another funny story when he froze. A group of men in overcoats and brown hats had entered the restaurant and one was now in urgent conversation with the headwaiter. Before Betty could speak, Eddie stood up, bent down to kiss her once, and then jumped through the window, which was closed. There was a storm of broken glass, tumbling crockery, screaming women, and shouting waiters. Betty Farmer caught a last glimpse of Eddie Chapman sprinting off down the beach with two overcoated men in pursuit. • • • There was much that Betty did not know about Eddie Chapman. He was married. Another woman was pregnant with his child. And he was a crook. Not some halfpenny bag snatcher, but a dedicated professional criminal, a "prince of the underworld," in his own estimation. For Chapman, breaking the law was a vocation. In later years, when some sort of motive for his choice of career seemed to be called for, he claimed that the early death of his mother, in the TB ward of a pauper's hospital, had sent him "off the rails" and turned him against society. Sometimes he blamed the grinding poverty and unemployment in northern England during the Depression for forcing him into a life of crime. But in truth, crime came naturally to him. Edward Chapman was born in Burnopfield, a tiny village in the Durham coalfields, on November 16, 1914, a few months into the First World War. His father, a marine engineer and too old to fight, had ended up running the Clippership, a dingy pub in Roker, and drinking a large portion of the stock. For Eddie, the eldest of three children, there was no money, not much love, little in the way of guidance, and only a cursory education. He soon developed a talent for misbehavior and a distaste for authority. Intelligent but lazy, insolent and easily bored, the young Chapman skipped school often, preferring to scour the beach for lemonade bottles, redeemable at  a penny a piece, and then while away afternoons at the cinema in Sunderland. At the age of seventeen, after a brief and unsatisfactory stint as an unpaid apprentice at a Sunderland engineering firm, Chapman joined the army, although underage, and enlisted in the Second Battalion of the Coldstream Guards. Early in his training at Caterham, he slipped while playing handball and badly gashed his knee; the resulting scar would provide police with a useful distinguishing feature. The bearskin hat and smart red uniform made the girls gawp and giggle, but he found sentry duty outside the Tower of London tedious, and the city beyond beckoned. Chapman had worn a guardsman's uniform for nine months when he was granted six days' leave. He told the sergeant major that he was going home. Instead, in the company of an older guardsman, he wandered around Soho and the West End, hungrily eyeing the elegant women draped over the arms of men in sharp suits. In a café in Marble Arch, he noticed a pretty, dark-haired girl, and she spotted him. They danced at Smokey Joe's in Soho. That night he lost his virginity. She persuaded him to stay another night; he stayed for two months, until they had spent all his pay. Chapman may have forgotten about the army, but the army had not forgotten about him. He was sure the dark-haired girl told the police. Chapman was arrested for going absent without leave, placed in the military prison in Aldershot--the "glasshouse"--and made to scrub out bedpans for eighty-four days. Release and a dishonorable discharge brought to an end his first prison sentence, and his last regular job. Chapman took a bus to London with £3 in his pocket, a fraying suit, and a "jail-crop haircut." He headed straight for Soho. Soho in the 1930s was a notorious den of vice, and spectacular fun. This was the crossroads of London society, where the rich and feckless met the criminal and reckless, a place of seamy, raucous glamour. Chapman found work as a barman, then as a film extra, earning £3 for "three days doing crowd work"; he worked as a masseur, a dancer, and eventually as an amateur boxer and wrestler. He was a fine wrestler, physically strong, and lithe as a cat, with a "wire and whipcord body." This was a world of pimps and racecourse touts, pickpockets and con artists; late nights at Smokey Joe's and early champagne breakfasts at Quaglino's. "I mixed with all types of tricky people," Chapman wrote later. "Racecourse crooks, thieves, prostitutes, and the flotsam of the night-life of a great city." For the young Chapman, life in this seething, seedy enclave was thrilling. But it was also expensive. He acquired a taste for cognac and the gaming tables. Soon he was penniless. The thievery started in a small way: a forged check here, a snatched suitcase there, a little light burglary. His early crimes were unremarkable, the first faltering steps of an apprentice. In January 1935, he was caught in the back garden of a house in Mayfair, and fined £10. A month later, he was found guilty of stealing a check and obtaining credit by fraud. This time the court was less lenient, and Chapman was given two months' hard labor in Wormwood Scrubs. A few weeks after his release, he was back inside, this time in Wandsworth Prison on a three-month sentence for trespassing and attempted housebreaking. Chapman branched out into crimes of a more lurid nature. Early in 1936, he was found guilty of "behaving in a manner likely to offend the public" in Hyde Park. Exactly how he was likely to have offended the public was not specified, but he was almost certainly discovered in flagrante delicto with a prostitute. He was fined £4 and made to pay a fee of 15 shillings 9 pence to the doctor who examined him for venereal disease. Two weeks later, he was charged with fraud after he tried to evade payment of a hotel bill. One contemporary remembers a young man "with good looks, a quick brain, high spirits and something desperate in him which made him attractive to men and dangerous to women." Desperation may have led him to use the attraction of men for profit, for he once hinted at an early homosexual encounter. Women seemed to find him irresistible. According to one account, he made money by seducing "women on the fringes of society," blackmailing them with compromising photographs taken by an accomplice and then threatening to show them to their husbands. It was even said that having "infected a girl of 18 with VD, he blackmailed her by threatening to tell her parents that she had given it to him." Chapman was on a predictable downward spiral of petty crime, prostitution, blackmail, and lengthening prison terms--punctuated by episodes of wild extravagance in Soho--when a scientific breakthrough in the criminal world abruptly altered his fortunes. In the early 1930s, British crooks discovered the high explosive gelignite. At about the same time, during one of his stints inside, Chapman discovered James Wells Hunt--the "best cracksman in London"--a "cool, self-possessed, determined character" who had perfected a technique for taking apart safes by drilling a hole in the lock and inserting a "French letter" stuffed with gelignite and water. Jimmy Hunt and Chapman went into partnership and were soon joined by Antony Latt, alias Darrington, alias "Darry," a nerveless half-Burmese burglar whose father, he claimed, had been a native judge. A young felon named Hugh Anson was recruited to drive their getaway car. In 1934, the newly formed "Jelly Gang" selected as its first target Isobel's, a chic furrier in Harrogate. Hunt and Darry broke in and stole five minks, two fox-fur capes, and £200 from the safe. Chapman remained in the car, "shivering with fear and unable to help." The next was a pawnbroker's in Grimsby. While Anson revved the Bentley outside to cover the sound of the explosions, Chapman and Hunt broke into an empty house next door, cut their way through the wall, and then blew open four safes. The proceeds, sold through a fence in the West End, netted £15,000. This was followed by a break-in at the Swiss Cottage Odeon cinema using an iron bar, a hit on Express Dairies, and a smash-and-grab raid on a shop in Oxford Street. Escaping from the latter scene, Anson drove the stolen getaway car into a lamppost. As the gang fled, a crowd of onlookers gathered around the smoking vehicle; one, who happened to be a small-time thief, made the mistake of putting his hand on the hood. When his fingerprints were matched with Scotland Yard records, he was sentenced to four years in prison. The Jelly Gang found this most amusing. Chapman was no longer a reckless petty pilferer, but a criminal of means, and he spent money as fast as he could steal it, mixing with the underworld aristocracy, the gambling playboys, the roué actors, the alcoholic journalists, the insomniac writers, and the dodgy politicians drawn to the demimonde. He became friendly with Noël Coward, Ivor Novello, Marlene Dietrich, and the young filmmaker Terence Young (who would go on to direct the first James Bond film). Young was a suave figure who prided himself on his elegant clothes, his knowledge of fine wine, and his reputation as a lothario. Perhaps in imitation of his new friend, Chapman also began buying suits in Savile Row and driving a fast car. He kept a table reserved at the Nest in Kingley Street, where he held court, surrounded by bottles and girls. Young remarked: "He was able to talk on almost any subject. Most of us knew that he was a crook, but nevertheless we liked him for his manner and personality." Young found Chapman intriguing: He made no secret of his trade, yet there was an upright side to his character that the filmmaker found curious. "He is a crook and will always be one," Young observed to a lawyer friend. "But he probably has more principles and honesty of character than either of us." Chapman would steal the money from your pocket, even as he bought you a drink, but he never deserted a friend, nor hurt a soul. In a brutal business, he was a pacifist. "I don't go along with the use of violence," he declared many years later. "I always made more than a good living out of crime without it." Careless, guiltless, and godless, Chapman reveled in his underworld notoriety. He pasted press clippings describing his crimes into a scrapbook. He was particularly delighted when it was reported that police suspected American gangs were behind the recent spate of safecracking because chewing gum had been found at the crime scenes (the Jelly Gang had merely used chewing gum to stick the gelignite to the safes). By the summer of 1935, they had stolen so much money that Chapman and Darry decided to rent a house in Bridport on the Dorset coast for an extended holiday; but after six weeks they grew bored and "went back to 'work.' " Chapman disguised himself as an inspector from the Metropolitan Water Board, gained access to a house in Edgware Road, smashed a hole through the wall into the shop next door, and extracted the safe. This was carried out of the front door, loaded into the Bentley, and taken to Hunt's garage at 39 St. Luke's Mews, Notting Hill, where the safe door was blown off. But cash could not confer all the benefits of class, and mixing with authors and actors, Chapman became conscious of his lack of education. He announced that he intended to become a writer, and began reading widely, plundering English literature in search of knowledge and direction. When asked what he did for a living, Chapman would reply, with a wink, that he was a "professional dancer." He danced from club to club, from job to job, from book to book, and from woman to woman. Late in 1935, he announced he was getting married, to Vera Freidberg, an exotic young woman with a Russian mother and a German-Jewish father. From her, Chapman picked up a grounding in the German language. But within a few months, he had moved into a boardinghouse in Shepherd's Bush with another woman, Freda Stevenson, a stage dancer from Southend who was five years his junior. He loved Freda, she was vivacious and sassy; yet when he met Betty Farmer--his "Shropshire Lass"--in the Nite Lite Club, he loved her, too. Excerpted from Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.