Phew, well that's over and is there anything worse than hearing your own voice played back to you?? Yes very probably but that's enough to be going on with.
So many fantastic books in progress and so many waiting for me to pick up, but I had to put everything on hold in order to read some of the World Book Night titles for that edition of A Good Read which all left me looking a little wistfully at my neglected book pile.
So the books that were dragging me away had better be good ones was all I could say, except I knew that two of them were...one my book giver's choice The World's Wife by Carol Ann Duffy and the other one Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Safe territory, a second read of one has been nothing but pleasure and the other a book I have to hand and pick up frequently anyway because you don't really read poetry in that way, the third a first time read for me of Agent Zigzag by Ben McIntyre. Having read it, and now talked about it I didn't want to miss recording those thoughts here either, so this may or may not feel like a reprise of the radio programme...
When this book first arrived back in 2007 I passed it straight onto the Tinker for the war-veteran's scrutiny. It's handy having a primary source for WWII at your behest and I do like to see if a book will get through his radar first. In which case he'll be looking for some veracity and a bit of excitement too because when the Tinker joined the Royal Marines as a boy bugler in May 1939 at the age of fourteen (sorry for the repetition, I know you all know that) is was a bit like a Boy's Own adventure until it dawned that the country was at war and they were going to be sent to the battleships. It was the gradual realisation as friends started to die that this might be a little more serious than first thought.
Well Agent ZigZag passed the Tinker Test with flying colours and I didn't see the book for months as it made its way around all his octogenarian friends who had also 'been there'. Here's something I wrote earlier about their thoughts at the time, Nov 2007, to be precise and bear in mind the Tinker will be 86 in a few week's time ...
Occasionally a book arrives for review and I send it off to The Tinker for a first read because it's right up his street. As the world now knows, he's 82, going on 83 and a very discerning and avid reader so the book will either receive a resounding seal of approval and make its way off around the octogenarian circuit, or be handed back to me with the whataloadofoldcodswallop epithet.
Does anyone ever ask octogenarians to review books?
Are they an audience who are consulted and considered regularly by publishers?
I suspect not but they are here. Think of the lifetime of reading and experience they bring to a book and let me tell you they have no truck with political correctness either.If these books make it through the fiery furnace of the Octos then they are truly worth reading.
Agent ZigZag, The True Wartime Story of Eddie Chapman Lover, Betrayer, Hero, Spy by Ben Macintyre and published by Bloomsbury came back basking in not stellar but galactic praise and The Tinker was mightily impressed with it.Thought it was going to be as dry and dust but couldn't put it down by page ten. One of those where you just have to know what happens next and I suspect one of those that would be loved by all fans of dangerous books for boys.
I haven't read the book but I gather Eddie Chapman, World War Two espionage maestro, might have been working for both the Germans and the British at the same time and was therefore a man of many contradictions.
"Inside the traitor lay a patriot, inside the villain a man of conscience. The problem for Chapman, his spymasters and his many lovers was to know where one ended and the other began."
By all accounts Eddie struck The Tinker as a likeable villain, no ethics, no morals, would steal from his own mother and yet there was an honesty and faithfulness to a friend or a cause even while he was double crossing them. The Tinker was intrigued, was Eddie's criss-crossing one side to the other about courage or a desire for adventure and a bit of complexity to his life?
He certainly received no financial reward and clearly the Germans valued him more than the British, they awarded Eddie the Iron Cross, the British didn't see fit to offer anything. Eddie a spy until his final days and this book apparently very moving in the last pages when he finally meets up again with his German spy master.
A gripping and fascinating account of a very complex man and with it came the realisation for me that WWII didn't only need the likes of men in power, or the brilliant cryptographers like Dilwyn Knox or the upper class Oxbridge strategists, they absolutely needed men who could practice the art of deception and who could steal, because what is spying but theft of information. Eddie Chapman so practiced that he couldn't be in a room without casing the joint or the talk for useful items no matter which side he was working for and which he then squirreled away in what must have been one of the most prodigious memories known to mankind.
So I am delighted that the fear of broadcasting my thoughts on Agent Zigzag to the nation was all the prompt I needed, with just a week's notice, to settle down and read it for myself and goodness me, if you stand a chance of getting this one from a World Book Night 'giver' push your way to the front of the queue, or reserve it at the library, or even buy one because it really is an excellent read.