Agent Zigzag, by Ben Macintyre

Eddie Chapman, a one time safe-cracker and bank-robber, is captured while on the run in Jersey. While he's incarcerated, the Germans invade, and after being released and then re-arrested, he persuades the Germans that he wants to spy for them: they train him as a spy, then parachute him back into England where he promptly turns himself in and starts sending fake reports back to his handlers. Eventually he "flees" to Spain, where he again seeks out the Germans, who this time take him to Norway before sending him back to England on another mission.

I read that synopsis of this book when I was partway through Operation Mincemeat, and it sounded so fantastic that I ordered it from the library straight away. And proceeded to read it straight after that book. Which means that I may have trouble separating the two.

I didn't notice, until I was about an hour into the book, that it was an abridged edition. Since I only ever listen to unabridged talking books, I was in a bit of a quandary, because by this time I was fairly hooked. And in fact I couldn't stop listening, so I carried on. I'm not sure how much I missed - the abridged version was still around seven hours long, so I guess not much. Perhaps (based on the fact that about 20% of Mincemeat was appendices), it was just references that were chopped out.

Anyway, the story did not disappoint, and was even more exciting and implausible than had been promised. There were overlaps with Mincemeat, with some of the same characters reappearing, but it was by no means a repetition of the stuff in that book.

Something that struck me quite forcefully while reading these two books by Macintyre was how badly informed the two sides (British and Germans) were about each other. I sort of assumed that the intelligence services would have pretty top quality information about what the other side was doing, but time after time the organisations seems to have been not that well organised or well informed at all. The British were very worried about fifth columnists, but in fact there seem to have been hardly any German agents at all, and the Germans had similar misconceptions about how well the British were doing.

It's reading this kind of history that gives you some hope that governments aren't nearly as efficient as they like to make out, and that there's a lot of luck and bluster involved.

Highly entertaining, and I'll read (the unabridged) version again some time.

Completed : 16-May-2015 (abridged audiobook)

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