Priceless

by Robert K. Wittman
ages: adult
First sentence: “The platinum Rolls-Royce with bulletproof windows glided east onto the Palmetto Expressway toward Miami Beach, six stolen paintings stashed in its armor-plated trunk.”
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Robbert Wittman spent 20 years in the FBI doing a mostly thankless job (at least for the bureau): recovering artwork. He didn’t do any of the high-profile stuff that makes the movies; in fact, most of the time, he didn’t even get public credit for his work because he spent most of his time under cover, getting dishonest dealers and art thieves to give up their stolen goods.

He talks about a handful of his cases from 1988 to the Big Case — attempting to recover the stolen paintings from the 1990 Boston Gardner Museum heist — and his role in recovering a handful of priceless art and artifacts, as well as talking about the state of Art Crime Recovery in this country (pitiful, to sum up).

On the one hand, this book was fascinating. I’d never heard of most of the heists, let alone the art that was stolen, and Wittman thoughtfully provides historical context and details surrounding each recovery. That was perhaps my favorite part: I learned quite a bit.

But, I have to admit that by the end, Wittman’s voice — and his “I’m AMAZING, aren’t I?” stance, whether intentional or not — grated on me. So much so, that I was actually glad (mild spoiler here) that the Gardner recovery fell through. I know he’s doing the country (and the world, not to mention History) a service by risking his life to recover these priceless things, but still. It got annoying.

Other than that, it was quite enjoyable.

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