IDOL TALK: Anonymous Calls in the Middle of the Night Are Ben Mezrich’s Life

Bestselling author and novelist Ben Mezrich has had a rich life, both financially and in the art of discovery. People come out of the woodwork and anonymously call him, urging him to write their wild stories. In many cases, he does.

This is not unusual when you’re an investigative reporter. Years ago, I was receiving these phone calls on a regular basis. One tip, which I’m ashamed to admit I sat on for a few days to complete less important work, resulted in my uncovering a Pentagon munitions scandal involving a crooked contractor that reached from Yugoslavia to El Salvador. (Lesson learned there.)

The result: the contractor enjoyed a Club Fed vacation.

While most investigative reporting is mundane research, from time to time, there are the made-for-movie moments like the time an anonymous source left me a packet of information in the bushes under a large shopping center sign. The sun had just set when he told me, “and by the way, I’ll be in my car watching you from the parking lot.”

That sent chills up my spin.

These stories make great cocktail party conversation even when they don’t turn up useful information. (That one did.) Most investigative reporting involves inner-nerd skills like reading volumes of government files, audits and reports, and having the oral stamina for countless phone calls urging sources to talk on the record. Then there’s the shoe leather dues that every investigator pays. Ben has paid that price. In fact, he says, for him it’s the most enjoyable part of writing.

The beautiful thing about most people you contact, they want to tell the truth, unless they’re a high-ranking government or corporate official. Then of course, they want to cover up.

And then there’s Ben Mezrich’s sources. He’s dealt with the scary Russian oligarchs who put Vladimir Putin in office, college math whizzes who took on Las Vegas, and he uncovered from a middle-of-the-night phone caller who was the mastermind behind the biggest unsolved art heist in world history. Ben Mezrich has had a full life of discovery and he’s not even old yet! I think you’ll find his story fascinating. I did. You can read more about Ben, his writing path and his latest novel about the great unsolved art heist, right here.

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