The Informant: A True Story

The Informant: A True Story

‘THE INFORMANT: A TRUE STORY’


JUMP TO SECTION:

OPENING LINE:

Just when you think you have all the answers, I change the questions.

The above is a quote most famously uttered by professional wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. However, when you read this book, you might think that it better describes the motivations and mentality of Mark Whitacre. Just when you think you understand Whitacre’s motivations, he goes off in a completely new direction.


PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

It was one of the FBI’s biggest secrets: a senior executive with America’s most politically powerful corporation, Archer Daniels Midland, had become a confidential government witness, secretly recording a vast criminal conspiracy spanning five continents. Mark Whitacre, the promising golden boy of ADM, had put his career and family at risk to wear a wire and deceive his friends and colleagues. Using Whitacre and a small team of agents to tap into the secrets at ADM, the FBI discovered the company’s scheme to steal millions of dollars from its own customers.
But as the FBI and federal prosecutors closed in on ADM, using stakeouts, wiretaps, and secret recordings of illegal meetings around the world, they suddenly found that everything was not all that it appeared. At the same time Whitacre was cooperating with the Feds while playing the role of loyal company man, he had his own agenda he kept hidden from everyone around him: his wife, his lawyer, even the FBI agents who had come to trust him with the case they had put their careers on the line for. Whitacre became sucked into his own world of James Bond antics, imperiling the criminal case and creating a web of deceit that left the FBI and prosecutors uncertain where the lies stopped and the truth began.
A page-turning real-life thriller that features deadpan FBI agents, crooked executives, idealistic lawyers, and shady witnesses with an addiction to intrigue, The Informant tells an important and compelling story of power and betrayal in America.
©2000 Kurt Eichenwald; (P)2006 Books on Tape


THE PLOT:

This book is the story of Mark Whitacre. But that’s not entirely fair because this book is so much more than the story of one man. Whitacre, an executive with the Archer Daniels Midland company, became a cooperating witness for the FBI and helped expose his employer’s involvement in global price fixing schemes.

If that were all this story was about it would be compelling enough, but almost immediately you start to see that there is much more here than you ever could have guessed. It is clear pretty early on that there is something not quite right about Mark Whitacre. At first you think that it’s just the stress of gathering information for the FBI that makes him act in such an unusual way. But as things progress, the real story of Mark Whitacre unfolds in all its bizarre glory.

Eichenwald says that he tried to write the book in such a way that the reader would feel like the people who were involved in this case, and in that way he succeeds. Facts are thrown out at different points, but are then not followed up on until much later. For instance, at one point Whitacre begins to tape his conversations with the FBI agents he’s working with to expose ADM’s price fixing, but we don’t gain a true understanding of why he does this until much later in the narrative. It’s just kind of left for the reader to consider and perhaps even let slip from memory until it’s brought back much further in the timeline.

This is a complicated book about a complicated case that was exposed by a complicated man. The fact that this is a true story is at some points very difficult to believe. This is one of those stories where it’s difficult to find a winner. The ADM executives were obviously losers for orchestrating the price fixing in the first place, and all of their co-conspirators were losers as well. The FBI agents and prosecutors also lost because of the stress they had to endure and the betrayal of their trust by Whitacre. One of the agents even found himself shunned by friends in the community for exposing ADM’s business practices.

The biggest loser of all, however, was Whitacre himself who ended up receiving the longest prison sentence of anyone connected with ADM because of his own crimes. By lying to so many people and trying to play both sides against each other, Whitacre blew any chance he had of being thought a hero. He also did serious damage to his own family. His wife is a saint in comparison for being so supportive of her husband even as his downhill slide became more destructive. Whitacre saw himself as being the real life Mitch McDeere from the John Grisham novel “The Firm.” His desire to be McDeere would prove costly to so many people in the end, none more so than Whitacre himself.

This story is as intriguing as you are going to find in any suspense novel. There is an interesting mix of characters and a plot that would seem unbelievable if it weren’t documented fact. The story can be a little hard to follow at times, but it’s appropriate because it mirrors the real life confusion experienced by those who were involved in bringing the truth to light.

Clocking in at over 24 hours long, this may seem like a daunting read. I don’t feel as if there was anything in this book that wasn’t necessary to the story. A danger with a story like this is that it can become a dry narrative of facts and dates. This book does not fall into that trap. It conveys emotion, conflict, trouble and intrigue throughout.


THE AUTHOR:

This is the first book by Kurt Eichenwald that I have had the pleasure to read. It is to the author’s credit that even after reading such a long book, I immediately wanted to read more of his work. So shortly after finishing “The Informant” I purchased both “Conspiracy of Fools” and “500 Days”. Even though the book was lengthy I never felt it was bogged down by unnecessary information. I also never felt like the author was talking down to his audience. When the author felt like something needed a bit more explaining, he did so. Otherwise, he assumed that the reader would be able to figure things out from either personal knowledge or context.


THE NARRATION:

I thought that Arthur Morey did an excellent job narrating the book, and I had a hard time putting it down for a couple of reasons. Obviously, all of the crazy twists and turns that the story took was a big part of it. However, Morey’s energetic portrayal of all the highs and lows, victories and defeats and the sheer volume of stress felt by those involved with the case along the way made it that much more compelling.

I didn’t detect any errors in pronunciation. I am one of those people who can immediately be taken out of a story if I come across a word or proper name that I know for certain is being mispronounced.

Morey shines when he’s giving voice to Mark Whitacre. His portrayal seemed a little strange at first, as he seemed to be playing Whitacre in a very manic and frenetic way. When he’s speaking for Whitacre, he tends to read at a quicker, more energetic pace. However, when all is said and done, that ended up being a wise choice.


THE PRODUCTION:

I have one minor complaint about the production of this book and it may not apply to all versions. On the Audible.com version, the chapter stops do not correspond with the book’s actual chapters. Jumping to the next chapter can put you right in the middle of a conversation. As I do not have access to the book on CD, I do not know if the same issue applies. It’s a minor thing that doesn’t really detract from the book, but it would be nice if they matched up.

Otherwise, the book sounds fantastic. It’s a clean, crisp listen in which I did not notice any glitches. The quality of the recording remains consistent throughout.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

This book has gotten a lot of praise since it was originally released. In my view, it earns all of that praise and then-some. Eichenwald does a good job of telling a fascinating and complex story that would appeal to many types of readers.

If you are a fan of books about business, I would suggest that you read this book. If you are interested in the inner-workings of government or in stories about the FBI, then you really should read this book. Even though this is a true story, I also recommend it to fans of suspense fiction. The story is just that incredible.


QUICK FACTS:

Title Author Narrator Publisher Genre Release Date Running Time Score
The Informant: A True Story Kurt Eichenwald Arthur Morey Books on Tape True Crime 12/22/2005 24 hours, 7 minutes 9.5/10

DISCLAIMER:

A copy of ‘The Informant’ was purchased from Audible.com for review.

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