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Proof That Real Life Is Unlike the Movies
on June 3, 2012
THIS REVIEW IS ABOUT THE AUDIOBOOK VERSION
The subtitle for the book pretty much sums up the topic: "Inside the Largest Diamond Heist In History." The description from Amazon does a pretty good job of giving you an overview of the details so I don't have to:
On February 15, 2003, a group of thieves broke into an allegedly airtight vault in the international diamond capital of Antwerp, Belgium and made off with over $108 million dollars worth of diamonds and other valuables. They did so without tripping an alarm or injuring a single guard in the process.
Although the crime was perfect, the getaway was not. The police zeroed in on a band of professional thieves fronted by Leonardo Notarbartolo, a dapper Italian who had rented an office in the Diamond Center and clandestinely cased its vault for over two years. The who of the crime had been answered, but the how remained largely a mystery.
Enter Scott Andrew Selby, a Harvard Law grad and diamond expert, and Greg Campbell, author of Blood Diamonds, who undertook a global goose chase to uncover the true story behind the daring heist. Tracking the threads of the story throughout Europe from Belgium to Italy, in seedy cafes and sleek diamond offices, the authors sorted through an array of conflicting details, divergent opinions and incongruous theories to put together the puzzle of what actually happened that Valentines Day weekend.
This real-life Ocean's Eleven, a combination of diamond history, journalistic reportage, and riveting true-crime story, provides a thrilling in-depth study detailing the better-than-fiction heist of the century.
For the most part, I think the description above is pretty accurate ... with the possible exception of the phrase "a thrilling in-depth study detailing the better-than-fiction heist of the century." This particular story probably isn't better than fiction, for, as the authors point out multiple times throughout the book, real-life isn't as glamorous or as fast-moving as fictional heists, like the ones depicted in the Ocean's Eleven series of films. The thieves spent almost two years planning and plotting, and the heist itself didn't rely on high-tech devices, disguises or split-second timing. In fact, the amazing thing about this story is that it was the lax security provided by the HUMANS at the Diamond Center that enabled the thieves to pull off the crime ... plus a bit of duct tape, hair spray, styrofoam and a long broom handle!
The book provides a balanced mix of the particulars of the heist (both before, during and after, including the subsequent detective work) and the history of diamonds, the diamond district in Antwerp and past diamond heists. What bogs the book down is that no one (except for the actual thieves) know all the details of the heist. Selby and Campbell do a good job of creating a plausible scenario but there are still key details that have not been nailed down ... and the thieves aren't yet willing to spill the beans. (Although Notarbartolo sold his "inside" story to Wired magazine, the authors conclude that his account was an elaborate bit of fiction designed to minimize his own involvement and disguise the actual size of the heist.)
Although the heist itself was allegedly a "perfect" crime, one small mistake (and a bit of bad luck) led to their almost instantaneous capture, which was almost disappointing to me as a reader. Part of me yearned for the neat conclusion of the Ocean's Eleven movies ... where the gang walks away scot-free and leaves everyone scratching their heads. The other thing that was weird to me was how little punishment the thieves ended up facing--based in no small part on the Belgian justice system.
Overall, the book was interesting and kept my attention, but I'd still rather watch Ocean's Eleven.
About the Narration: Don Hagen has a deep voice that was well-suited to this particular book. He effortlessly pronounced the Italian and Belgian surnames and the rather complicated sounding Antwerp street names.
Recommended for: Readers who enjoy true crime books that aren't violent or involve murder