A retired FBI special agent recounts the high points of a “very gratifying job that does not seem like work because it is so enjoyable.”
Oldham (Unmitigated Justice, 2016) joined the FBI in the late 1960s, quitting his phone company job and moving to the Washington, D.C., area for a clerical position. After getting his business administration degree through night classes and completing intensive training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, he qualified as a special agent and took up his first assignment in Columbia, South Carolina. Two years later, he was transferred to Phoenix, Arizona, where he worked until his retirement in 1995. Fingerprint work was among his specialties. This book spotlights unforgettable moments from his life in the FBI, written up as short sketches with a good level of detail but usually little or no re-created dialogue. These stories are grouped under subject headings—bank robberies, fugitives, kidnappings, crisis negotiations—so within chapters, the cases can start to feel repetitive or generic. A few of the observations seem self-explanatory (“Fugitive work is interesting because fugitives will do anything to keep from being located and arrested”). A chronological rather than thematic approach, focusing on fewer instances but dramatizing and fleshing them out a bit more, might have been more successful. There’s no denying, however, that SA work sounds enviably thrilling, and the frequent black-and-white photographs are a great addition. A few highlights are finding a fugitive at the shooting gallery of a suburban carnival, waiting out a shotgun-toting bank robber in 115 degrees, and attending a Scotland Yard class on terrorism negotiation. Memorable characters include Jimmy, an informer who always passed polygraph tests. Perhaps the most wrenching story is that of Marine Corps Capt. Robert Bravence and his wife, Cheryl. When they were reported missing in 1983, Oldham had a gut feeling that something terrible had happened. Sure enough, their murdered remains were found in Idaho, where they’d gone hiking. That the perpetrators are now serving life sentences is surely little consolation for the victims’ families, whom he met at the funeral.
Diverting stories, if nothing mind-blowing.