When we picked up “Priceless,” by former FBI agent Robert Wittman, we thought, “this ought to be good.”
After all, “Priceless” has all the makings of a great thriller that may be stranger than fiction. How can it not? Sleazy art dealers. Undercover stings. FBI agents working with other law enforcement agencies around the world. And what is at stake?
Priceless works of art.
Even the book’s subtitle of “How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures,” promises much.
Can it get any better than that?
The book could press all the right buttons and yet it fails to excite.
It took us awhile to figure out why the book, while covering an exciting topic, fails to deliver. We believe there are two reasons. First, it is not uncommon for a true life story to be less than what other fictional books and movies would have you believe. Often investigative work is tedious and the equivalent of watching hub caps rust. While the author of Priceless may be a good looking fellow, he is not in the same class as Catherine Zeta Jones (of Ocean’s Twelve and Entrapment.) Maybe the book fails to excite because we expected more excitement from it. If that is the case, that is our fault.
But after finishing the book and pondering it for a week or so, we realized the flaw – and perhaps the bigger flaw – was not that the book didn’t live up to the “excitement” we envisioned, but rather the book comes off as self serving and self promoting. After leaving the FBI, Wittman established his own security company that focuses on the prevention of art thefts. There is a feeling within the book of “if only the world’s investigators were as great as I…”
For example, during a sting to recover a some artwork, Wittman has the person selling the stolen artwork meet him on a boat in the Miami Harbor with another person who is allegedly a drug dealer. Almost everyone on the boat is actually an FBI agent, including the women that a drug dealer would surround himself with. When the meeting takes place in the warm clime of Miami, on the water, the female agents are dressed in two piece bathing suits. Wittman takes notice of them and calls them “bikini bimbos” and he is not referring to the part they are playing.
Wittman gives some narrative of the constant infighting between US law enforcement agencies as well as the infighting between agencies of different countries. The conclusion he draws is always the same; if only everyone else listened to him, things would be perfect.
In the end, Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures takes the exciting subject of the FBI, undercover work, and international art heists and manages to turn the story into a totally mediocre, self promoting, relatively boring book. We still aren’t sure how that happened, only that it did.
Overall, we give the book two and a half stars out of five. It is an okay read to get from the library if there is nothing else that catches your eye, but it is not a book you want to purchase unless you have trouble sleeping.