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Eddie Chapman was a true life con-man and thief who turned his talents and inclinations to the wartime (WWII) service of his country. He was more or less loyal to England and to himself, but, as one of his handlers put it, he’d was the sort to do you a good turn while lifting your wallet. He was a libidinous drinker who was loyal to his lovers in, as the song says, his own way. He might leave, but he’d always come back. Eventually.

Ben MacIntyre traces Chapman’s life as he moves from his flashy pre-war exploits and incursion into the ranks of West End glamour (Noel Coward was an associate for a while.) into a jail term and hence into a pardon in return for becoming a double agent. If you’re looking for insight into the criminal mind–even beyond Les Edgerton’s The Bitch and Just Like That as well as an spy tale worthy of John LeCarre, you won’t do better than Agent Zigzag.

The guy was such a master. Playing both his English handlers off against one another and his German colleagues likewise. He leveraged his skills and knowledge into money and prestige and a bit of power and sex, and he enjoyed himself the whole way. He had a loyal bone or two in his body, but not an honest one. Even though you know the outcome, the twists and turns of his trips back and forth between England and the continent, the love affairs, the betrayals keep you on pins and needles every page.

In the end, I had nothing but admiration and affection for this guy, despite the fact that he was in many ways a thoroughly despicable person. I guess that’s what they mean by the Stockholm effect or something. When you read it, don’t skip the epilogue. It contains stories of people who came forward after the book’s original publication, folks Macintyre hadn’t encountered in the first go-round. Fascinating story, well written.

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