On the cover: Willie Sutton was born in the squalid Irish slums of Brooklyn, in the first year of the twentieth century, and came of age at a time when banks were out of control. If they weren’t failing outright, causing countless Americans to lose their jobs and homes, they were being propped up with emergency bailouts. Trapped in a cycle of panics, depressions and soaring unemployment, Sutton saw only one way out, only one way to win the girl of his dreams.
So began the career of America’s most successful bank robber. Over three decades Sutton became so good at breaking into banks, and such a master at breaking out of prisons, police called him one of the most dangerous men in New York, and the FBI put him on its first ever Most Wanted List.
But the public rooted for Sutton. He never fired a shot, ater all, and his victims were merely those bloodsucking banks. When he was finally caught for good in 1952, crowds surrounded the jail and chanted his name.
Blending vast research with vivid imagination, Moehringer brings Willie Sutton blazing back to life. In Moehringer’s retelling, it was more than poverty or rage at society that drove Sutton. It was one unforgettable woman. In all Sutton’s crimes and confinements, his first love (and first accomplice) was never far from his thoughts. And when Sutton finally walked free – a surprise pardon on Christmas Eve, 1969 – he immediately set out to find her. Sutton tells a story of economic pain that feels eerily modern, while unfolding a story of doomed love that is forever timeless.
Why I chose it: I’ve seen a lot of chatter about this book and wanted to check it out for myself!
I was really impressed with this book. I knew nothing about Sutton or his life, but when I looked up the book and discovered it was about bank robbery and a love story, I thought you know, that sounds worth it. And it was.
I really liked the style of Sutton. The book is written from the perspective of Sutton, released from jail in 1969, but remembering his life from the 1920’s onward. It took a while to get used to the way the book shifts between current time and past memories, but I really liked having the commentary of Willie Sutton on his own life. I felt that it gave a more encompassing view of Willie Sutton, who he was, and how he viewed his life. The one thing I didn’t like about style was that no quotation marks were used when people were talking, but again I got used to it.
As a historical fiction novel, I really liked Sutton. I think the amount of research that Moehringer put into the story really shows. Sutton goes around revisiting important landmarks from his past, and you can really feel the amount of historical fact that sits within the book. Although there are some liberties taken in the story, I still felt like there was a lot of hard facts within the book.
Finally, and without trying to give anything away, I really liked the ending. And the beginning. Moehringer gives an Author’s Note at the beginning of the story that there is a lot unknown about Sutton’s life, and that Sutton is a best guess at what happened, but also a wish. By the end, you don’t know if Willie Sutton has shared the true story about what happened during his life. But it’s one version of the story. And maybe it doesn’t matter if it’s the right story or not. Sutton impressed me not because of thrilling action or highly intellegent bank robberies or witty humour – Sutton asked a lot of challenging questions about what life is worth, what love is, what it is to be a man. This book reached a really deep level and is incredibly well thought out which, for me, is much more important than historical accuracy.
Rating: 4 / 5