31 July 2012

Sutton; J.R. Moehringer

SuttonSutton by J.R. Moehringer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an interesting blend of historical fiction, fiction and what I call faction (fiction based on non-fiction). The true is that on Christmas Day, 1969, after his release from Attica, Willie Sutton spent the day with a newspaper reporter and photographer, taking them on a tour of his life. Based on that day, the author has written a supposal: what was Sutton thinking when he revisited sites (many of them long gone by 1969)?

Moehringer has posited a Sutton who was beat up by his brothers, who turned to crime because he was in love with Bess Endren (daughter of a rich shipyard owner), and who was bound by one main rule: don't rat out your friends. One of those friends? Dutch Schultz. As the three men tour Vinegar Hill, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Coney Island, Staten Island, Yankee Stadium and other places in New York City, Sutton's tale is interrupted by reminiscences of the past and his obsession with Bess. His reading habits and gentleness with others is highlighted (for example, while working at Farm Colony Hospital, he anonymously left money for burials on the corpses of those who would otherwise end up in Potters Field).

In doing a little research it's unclear how much of the book is true (one source has Sutton born in Greenpoint, while this book says Vinegar Hill) but ultimately it doesn't matter. This plausible history is an enjoyable read, reminding us of a world gone by (I chuckled with I read Sutton's reaction to the "remodeled" Yankee Stadium - whatever would he think of today's entirely new model?)

ARC provided by publisher.

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