Agent ZigZag


West Maui Book Club Discussion Questions

Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Aloha and mahalo for visiting our site!

Any page numbers refer to iPad edition.

BTW: Using the Multiplication Code in the Appendix, can you decipher this message dated Jan. 1, 2013?    HOLGH BJFUU DMOAA HJXDI XUETF DEEIE TXZNF XDHCA

1) In your mind’s eye, how did you view Eddie Chapman? A rogue? A hustler? A con man? A thief?

2) What skills do you think gets someone recognized as a potentially good spy? Do you know anyone who has been “tapped”?

3) In mid-1940 Chapman finds himself imprisoned in the Channel Islands during German occupation. It recalled for me our reading of “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer. It would have been interesting if Shaffer’s book had included reference to Chapman, don’t you think?

4) While in prison, Chapman read over 200 library books, memorizing passages and poems. How and in what ways, big and small, did this commitment benefit him?

5) After prison, Chapman urges Faramus and Douglas to offer themselves all up as German spies as a way to get off the island and away from the Gestapo that was by now threatening their illicit business. Chapman says his reasoning here was fuzzy and unclear and that whether or not it was right would be revealed later. Was it?

6) The Villa de Bretonniere where Chapman first met Graumann was built in 1830’s and appears (in my research) to be the Hotel de la Bretonneier at 22 rue Sainte del Bretonnerier that is listed as dating back to the 17th century.

7) Do you think Chapman was capable of killing Hitler at a rally, as he had envisioned? Many attempts were made including at Hitler’s conference at Wolf’s Lair by Claus von Stauffenberg and a bomb inside his briefcase. Hitler survived because the explosion was deflected behind the heavy oak table leg nearest the Kaiser.

8) Jasper Maskelyn was a magician whose talents masked the bombing of the De Havilland aircraft factory. It was a complete farce. Have you heard of any other “magic” used to fool the enemy? How about camouflage, something Picasso swore was copied by the war effort from his art?

9) Where you surprised to learn that so many of the James Bond people: Ian Flemming, Charles Frasier-Smith, etc, served during WWII?

10) Did you know that the paperclip (also worn as a sign of resistance in Norway) was a Norwegian invention? According to Wikipedia: “A Norwegian, Johan Vaaler (1866-1910), has erroneously been identified as the inventor of the paper clip. He was granted patents in Germany[12] and in the United States[13] (1901) for a paper clip of similar design, but less functional and practical, because it lacked the last turn of the wire. Vaaler probably did not know that a better product was already on the market, although not yet in Norway. His version was never manufactured and never marketed, because the superior Gem was already available.”

11) What would you say about all the women in Chapman’s life? Vera Freidberg, Freda Stevenson (daughter Diane), Dagmar Mohne Hansen Lahlum, and Betty Farmer (daughter Suzanne)?

12) What do you think of British Intelligence believing the only place for Chapman’s cyanide pills and liquid was “down the drain and well washed away”?

13) Major Michael Ryde was the agent who, in the end, finished Chapman’s career based on his inclinations about Chapman’s loyalty to Gaumann / von Groning and Jimmy Hunt, one of his original “Jelly Gang” members. Do you think Chapman was handled in a fair manner in the end and in exchange for all he did for Britain?

14) Given how evasive Chapman was and how daunting the historical records and persons involved were portrayed, do you believe there is still more to this story?

15) Chapman used a multiplication code to communicate with the Germans. So, when thinking of your daily word usage, online and off, how many acronyms or "codes" do you think you use? BTW, LOL, TMIO, ETC...

16) Do you think with the war effort that Chapman was a true hero in every sense of the word or a hero, if at all, by happinstance?

(Answer to above coded message: "fffff Agent Zigzag is a good read x Happy New Year)

From www.LitLovers

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. What kind of character traits make for a good spy—and how does Eddie Chapman reflect those traits? Is he typical of other successful spies you might have read about previously? Are the qualities it takes to become a spy present in your make-up?

2. Follow-up to Question #1: What in Chapman's character, if anything, would you say is admirable? One reviewer has commented that "there is something about a democracy that makes a spy untrustworthy to the public and unworthy of its respect.... Chapman was no exception." Do you agree...or disagree? Where does the author come down on this question? Does he attempt to convince readers, one way or another? Or does he let you make your own determination?

3. How does did Chapman convince the Nazis to use him as their spy—what enables him to convince them? Same with the British—how does he persuade the Allies to use him as a double agent?

4. What have you learned about how the secret intelligence services operated during World War II—both the Abwehr and MI5? What do you find most interesting...or disturbing? Same questions regarding the techniques used to train spies.

5. Talk about the relationship between spies and their "handlers." How would you describe Ryde and his handling of Chapman? Does Ryde run Chapman...or the other way around? Also, what role does class play in the relationship of spies to handlers?

6. Should agents' lives be considered expendable—or promises negotiable—in the overwhelming necessity of winning a war?

7. Talk about the dangers Chapman faced in Germany. How vulnerable was his position as a spy?

8. We rightfully herald the heroism of armed forces in World War II. Yet the story of intelligence gathering and analysis remained untold for years. (The story of the Ultra secret, for instance, wasn't written about till the 1970s.) Discuss role of intelligence operations—including code-breaking as well as spying—in the Allies' ultimate success? Would the war have been won in 1945 without their efforts?

9. Follow-up to Question #8: Overall, how vital was Chapman's role to the Allied victory? Did his work make a critical difference?

10. What in this story do you find humorous? The episode, for instance of Bobby the Pig? Any others? What about the hapless German agents in Britain? Were Nazi spies truly bunglers?

11. Chapman was dead by the time Macintyre wrote his book. Having read Agent ZigZag, do you feel you have a fairly complete picture? Or are there still unanswered questions—more you would like to know?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online of off, with attribution. Thanks.)