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Chasing Phil: The Adventures of Two Undercover Agents with the World's Most Charming Con Man

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From left, Jack Brennan, Phil Kitzer, and J.J. Wedick in Tokyo in April, 1977.

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The book will appear under an original cover (pictured here) in the United Kingdom, and will be translated for German, Japanese, and Polish editions.

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Robert Downey Jr.'s production company has optioned Chasing Phil for a film adaptation that will feature Downey as Phil Kitzer. Read more here.

the chase begins

The Thunderbird Motel, February 1977. J. J. Wedick and Jack Brennan—two fresh-faced, maverick FBI agents—were about to embark on one of their agency's first wire-wearing undercover missions. 

Their target? Charismatic, globetrotting con man Phil Kitzer, whom some called the world's greatest swindler. As they circled the globe together for the next eight months—bouncing to Miami, to Hawaii, to Tokyo and Frankfurt and New York City—Phil revealed the secrets behind his ingenious multimillion-dollar schemes. 

But as Jack and J.J. played the role of protégés and co-conspirators, meeting homicidal mobsters and desperate marks and a colorful network of fellow scammers, something even more shocking happened: They became Phil’s friends.

This is their story.

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praise for Chasing phil

 

 

"In the genre of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction, Chasing Phil is a standout. What a wild, wonderful story of cons and crooks, told with great style and swagger." —Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief and Rin Tin Tin

 

"David Howard takes you so deep inside the FBI’s high-stakes, high-testosterone pursuit of one of the great '70s con artists, you can practically taste the Camels and the Cutty Sark. A terrific true-crime tale, masterfully told." —Mark Adams, author of Turn Right at Machu Picchu

 

"Chasing Phil snared me with a tale as spellbinding as Catch Me If You Can and American Hustle: A world-class swindler, two FBI agents on his tail, and all the high drama and bad hair the late 70s had to offer. David Howard’s story of the FBI’s first body-wire undercover mission crackles with sharp dialogue and hairpin plot turns. Strap in. This is a true-crime thrill ride." —Bruce Barcott, author of The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw and Weed the People

 

 

"Here is an infectiously good tale about the art of the con. In David Howard’s capable hands, a lost world of sharks in tailored suits and their bodacious scams comes to crackling life on the page. I could feel the trickles of sweat from the high-stakes lies, could hear the muffled voices over primitive FBI surveillance gear. And as I read along, I kept checking my back pocket to make sure my wallet was still there."—Hampton Sides, author of Hellhound on His Trail

 

"I can’t recall the last time I had so much fun with a true crime book. The plot bobs and weaves, the ‘70s underworld jet-set scene is rendered with groovy precision, the main characters are big, vibrant, and complex, and the supporting cast seems snatched from a John D. MacDonald caper. Chasing Phil is superb reportage mixed with edge-of-your-seat storytelling." —Jonathan Miles, author of Dear American Airlines and Anatomy of a Miracle

 

"You’d never have wanted to invest with Phil Kitzer—con man extraordinaire, the criminal who initiated the FBI’s age of undercover operations—but boy would it have been great to hang out with him. What a life! David Howard’s suspenseful, propulsive, 1970s-infused book is the closest any of us will ever come to a boozy, airplane-hopping evening with Phil. Chasing Phil is an outstanding, heart-thumping read.” —Michael Finkel, author of The Stranger in the Woods

J.J. Wedick wore this Nagra recorder under his shirt during parts of the Kitzer operation.

 

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David Howard

is a journalist and editor who has spent the past twenty-five years crafting compelling works of nonfiction. His first book, Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic, chronicled the 138-year journey of an original, priceless rendition of the Bill of Rights that was pilfered during the Civil War. Publishers Weekly called the book a “remarkable American story” and a “marvelously compelling read” in a starred review. Dave has spoken at the National Archives, the National Constitution Center, and Virginia’s State Library, and appeared on an episode of the History Channel show "Brad Meltzer's Lost History." He was also featured on C-SPAN's Book TV. As an editor he has worked with some of the nation’s top nonfiction writers, and been part of teams that have won three National Magazine Awards. He is now the story editor at Prevention. Contact him at davidhowardauthor@gmail.com. For book events or publicity, write to Sarah Grimm: sgrimm@penguinrandomhouse.com.