Brooklyn-born Willie Sutton was an infamous bank robber in the early 1900s who was arrested countless times and consequently escaped prison just as many times. Also known as Willie the Actor, he was America’s most successful bank robber and was put on the first Most Wanted List from the FBI. He couldn’t stop pulling off heists but his one rule was that nobody got hurt. In a strange way, especially during the depression when people weren’t very trusting with banks, Willie became somewhat of a hero among the general population of New York. Sutton follows a Reporter & Photographer tasked with telling Willie’s tail once he’s released from prison. Willie insists on taking his companions through a winding path through the city that often doublebacks on itself to best chronologically tell his life story at all the significant moments in his life.
I had heard so many great things about this book and the fact that it’s based on an actual person made me all the more intrigued. I love historical fiction and often read books in that genre that are set man centuries ago so it was nice to pick up this book set in the 1900’s of one of my favourite cities: New York. Moehringer does a great job at blending the factual elements with the fictional accounts so much so that I wouldn’t know how much of what I had read about Willie Sutton was real.
The cover for the hardcover version (pictured here) is so perfect for the setting of Sutton. I love every aspect of the imagery in this from the dapper young man in the pinstripe suit to the New York cityscape, all tinged with a grimy hue mirroring the dirty deeds of the criminals.
I loved the method of storytelling, where “present day” with Willie leading the Reporter & Photographer through the streets of New York are told in italics and the flashbacks and lead-ups to their different destinations are written in regular type. The tales from Willie’s life is at times heart warming as they are heart breaking. I found myself sympathizing with this criminal and whether that’s due to his true personality coming through or Moehringer’s fleshing-out of this character I couldn’t help but think on more than one occasion: why can’t he just catch a break?? And yet, it’s his own doing that becomes his undoing each time.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ (3.5/5 stars)
Available: September 25, 2012
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Read as part of Brunch Book Club with Lost in a Great Book.
Wrap up discussion to come in the coming week.