An FBI story that's not set in a Quantico basement!
Jul 21, 2010
I think, if you read in the true crime genre, that you'll read pretty much everything, and Priceless is more than worth your time. I found it to be a refreshing change from blood-and-gore-and-more-gore stories of profilers and serial killers. I enjoyed reading about being part of an undercover operation while staying aware of your family. I grew up in the shadow of a "next door" agency to the FBI and I know how tempting it can be to leave a family behind when duty calls.
I don't understand the "art crimes aren't as important as real crimes" review; those agents are free to write their own books. This is Wittman's book, and it's engaging.
Prosaic? Perhaps. I suspect most anti-crime work is, in fact, when it's not being tarted up to fit in a neat 42-minute made-for-TV package.
It so happened that I read Priceless (40 month sentences for one of the major thefts) back to back with Peter Robinson's Bad Boy, about a gun crime in England where a woman faced a 5 year sentence for possession of a handgun. What a contrast in values! (then again, I don't know what kind of sentences are handed down on people who are convicted of major art theft in Great Britian.)
What an excellent read! This memoir has all the action and adventure of a great thriller with the added kick that it all really happened. Wittman eloquently describes how he found himself pulled into the rough and tumble world of undercover operations designed to recover stolen works of art, and shares his frustration that the issue generates so little attention in the U.S. and at the FBI itself. Gangsters, museum thieves, art scholars- this book has a little bit about them all and makes for a great … more
Robert K. Wittman wasn't an ordinary FBI agent. Instead of tracking terrorists or busting drug kingpins and mobsters, he carved out a niche as art crime specialist. During his 20-year career, Wittman recovered more than $225 million worth of artwork and historical artifacts in undercover stings all over the globe. His memoir, "Priceless," written with John Shiffman, is an account of how he planned and pulled off some of his high-stakes operations, rescuing treasures such as an original copy of the Bill of Rights and paintings by Rembrandt and Renoir.
Almost every case he recounts has enough intrigue and suspense for a Hollywood screenplay. Describing a time he worked in Madrid to retrieve a collection of paintings by artists such as Goya and Pissarro, Wittman writes: "Tomorrow, if everything went according to plan: I'd be entering another hotel room across town. To meet a desperate, possibly homicidal gangster eager to close a $10 million deal. Unarmed. Dangling a million euros cash as bait. Working with an FBI partner on his first undercover case. Negotiating in French, a language I didn't understand. Swell."
Less exciting but no less interesting are the details of how this former salesman and journalist fell into such a unique job and came to excel at it. He had to develop an expertise in art and antiques that would convince thieves he was a serious buyer. And he had to learn the nuts and bolts of going undercover, which meant being patient, winning a criminal's trust and ...