The story of a con man, a petty criminal and a womaniser may not be considered to be Bletchley Park subject matter and some may be forgiven if they wonder what links an opportunist has with the code breakers of Bletchley Park. The answer is the double cross system. Through intercepted German messages deciphered at Bletchley Park, MI5 could keep tabs on German spies and in many cases persuade them to become double agents.
The author, Ben Macintyre, is an historian and journalist with a growing list of books which focus on the subject of the political warfare of deception. Those titles include “Operation Mincemeat” and “Double Cross” providing an insight into the use of misinformation through inference and lies, and in his book “Agent Zigzag” he tells the compelling story of one such double agent.
Macintyre introduces the reader to the young Eddie Chapman, an enigmatic character who would make use of anyone, particularly pretty girls, in order to achieve his own aims. By providing an insight in to Chapman’s early life of crime the author paints a picture of a somewhat dapper ,self confident young man whom, through criminal misfortune and indeed his own ineptitude, finds himself incarcerated in a Jersey jail at the time of the German invasion of that small island in 1940 .
Driven by self preservation, Chapman offers to sell his services to the Germans in order to get out of jail. After some misgivings the Germans accept his offer and Chapman is eventually transported to a training school in Paris where his safe blowing skills are recognised and he is taught the rudiments of sabotage.
Never one to miss a trick, Chapman enjoys a privileged lifestyle with his new hosts and ingratiates himself with the rich and the seemingly powerful German hierarchy winning their confidence and respect. Once accepted as a German agent he negotiates remuneration for his services and is parachuted into England. Within days Eddie Chapman, the petty criminal, is once again in the hands of the British authorities and, in turn, offers his services to his country as a double agent.
With the nerve of the con man Agent Zigzag deceived his German paymasters and was awarded the Iron Cross. Eddie Chapman survived the war and became an honorary crime writer for the Sunday Telegraph advising his readers “to avoid people like him”.
This book is well researched and well illustrated with a wealth of support evidence which provides a broader picture in to the workings of MI5, the double cross system and the part played by individual agents tasked to convincingly carry out the deception and tell the lies.
Eddie Chapman certainly was resourceful, charismatic and the epitome of the loveable rogue. Well worth a read.