Sutton by J.R. Moehringer, narrated by Dylan Baker
Published in print and audio by Hyperion
Christmas Eve, 1969, notorious bank robber Willie Sutton is released from prison thanks to the poor health that seems likely to kill him at any time. Willie is not released straight into the world, however, but thanks to a deal his lawyer made he is transferred into the custody of a newspapers reporter and photographer. They are promised his exclusive story about the murder of Willie Schuster, but Willie has plans of his own: he wants to tell his story his own way, from the beginning.
Thoughts on the story:
Willie’s story alternates between the ‘present’ of 1969 and his past from childhood onward to his final arrest. The frame of the reporter and photographer is helpful in giving Sutton’s story context, but it is somewhat too prevalent, to the point where it distracts from the bulk of Willie’s story. I would have preferred for present story to have remained primarily at the beginning and end, used only sparingly throughout. I think I found the 1969 portions of the story particularly distracting because Moehringer decided not to give the reporter and photographer names. Willie refers to them as Reporter and Photographer. This is actually something that is done throughout the novel, starting with Willie’s own family, including the siblings he refers to as Big Brother and Bigger Brother. I understand why many of the characters are referred to in this way, and it is relatively unobtrusive when it pops up in the story of Willie’s past, but it becomes painfully obvious when Willie uses the appellations Reporter and Photographer over and over.
Despite not particularly liking the sections that took place in 1969, I found Willie’s story to be absolutely fascinating. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Sutton is the number of parallels between the time when Willie was ascendant and this age of the Occupy movement. The country is in the midst of depression and banks are the villain du jour. People so hate banks, in fact, that by robbing banks Willie becomes a folk hero. Although this is a fictional account and there is always the question of how reliable a criminal – even fictionalized – might be about his own life of crime, it is still instructive to see how Willie became one of the century’s greatest bank robbers.
Thoughts on the audio production:
This was my first time listening to Dylan Baker’s narration and, with any luck, it won’t be my last. This was simply top notch narration. Baker did distinct voices for each and every character, with an ease that would almost make you think you were listening to a full cast recording. The production is solid, but I do with there had been more of a pause or some other indication when the scene switched between Willie Sutton’s past and the ‘present’ in which he had been released from jail, as occasionally the switch went more or less unnoticed for a few beats.
Sutton is a fascinating story well-told. I think I might have found it a bit overly long in print, but Dylan Baker’s phenomenal narration brings Willie’s Depression-era exploits to life so that the hours fly by. Highly recommended.
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