Willie Sutton was two things during his lifetime: America’s most successful bank robber and a folk hero. With the economy floundering, finding stable employment was damn-near impossible, so Sutton turned to a life of crime.
However, Sutton is not a biography. Pulitzer Prize winning author J.R Moehringer took a real man and a real event (Sutton’s release from prison and his exclusive interview on Christmas Day, 1969) and turned it into a piece of fiction that you cannot put down. Moehringer’s Willie Sutton is an intelligent, literary, chain-smoking, love-sick man. His disregard for the law and carelessness for the consequences of his actions doesn’t affect his likeability. He is the fallen hero of this American tale.
Revisiting all his old heist locations, we learn through Sutton’s own memories that a thrilling yet ill-fated first love deeply scarred him, and he spends his entire life trying to be worthy of his beloved Bess. Desperate for money and unable to find steady employment, Sutton commissioned help from friends and began to rob banks. Upon being caught, Sutton escapes from three high security prisons, and earns his spot as the first criminal on the America’s Most Wanted list.
Love, greed, reflection and desperation are all prevalent themes in this story, but it is the emotional response I felt (and I think other readers will feel) from Sutton that makes this book stand out. In the end you can’t help but feel sorry for Sutton: a vulnerable man who was constantly betrayed by his allies and, in the end, betrayed by his lonely heart and mind.
I kept reading completely curious and naïve as to what would drive a man to commit crime throughout his entire life. Why would he escape prison to live a life on the run? Why would Sutton allow himself to be emotionally tortured by the memory of lost love? You’ll have to read the book to figure it out for yourself; but, be warned: the ending of this book has such a mind-blowing twist that I’m still wondering what really happened to Willie Sutton. Moehringer’s Sutton is an incredibly powerful and engaging story that will stay with you long after you close the back cover.