Heather’s latest pick is an extraordinary fiction debut from J. R. Moehringer that is rooted in reality. Sutton tells the story of real life Depression-era robber Willie Sutton, the incredibly successful bandit who attacked banks just as they were bringing the world economy down.
We’re happy to share an excerpt from this novel’s opening, just to provide a taste – be warned, you’ll want to continue reading. This novel will almost certainly be named among the year’s best.
He’s writing when they come for him.
He’s sitting at his metal desk, bent over his yellow legal pad, talking to himself, and to her—as always, to her. So he doesn’t notice them standing at his door. Until they run their batons along the bars.
He looks up, adjusts his large scuffed eyeglasses, the bridge mended with scotch tape. Two guards—one fat and soft and pale, as if made from Crisco, the other tall and oily and with a birthmark like a penny on his right cheek. You can almost make out Abraham Lincoln.
The guard made of lard hitches up his belt. On your feet, Sutton. You’re wanted in Admin.
Birthmark points his baton. What the? You crying, Sutton?
Don’t you lie to me, Sutton. I can see you been crying.
Sutton touches his cheek. His fingers come away wet. I didn’t know I was crying sir.
Lard Guard points his baton at the legal pad. What’s that?
He asked you what is it, Birthmark says.
Sutton feels his bum leg starting to buckle. He grits his teeth at the pain. My novel sir.
They look around his book-filled cell. He follows their eyes. It’s never good when the guards look around your cell. They can always find something if they have a mind to. They scowl at the books along the floor, the books along the metal cabinet, the books along the cold-water basin. Sutton’s is the only cell at Attica filled with copies of Dante, Plato, Shakespeare, Freud. No, they confiscated his Freud. Prisoners aren’t allowed to have psychology books. The warden thinks they’ll try to hypnotize each other.
Lard Guard smirks. He gives Birthmark a nudge—get ready. Novel, eh? What’s it about?
Just—you know. Life sir.
What the hell does an old jailbird know about life?
Sutton shrugs. That’s true sir. But what does anyone know?
It’s nine a.m. Christmas Eve. 1969.
Word is leaking out. A dozen print reporters have already arrived and they’re huddled at the front entrance, stomping their feet, blowing on their hands. One of them says he just heard—snow on the way. Lots of it. Nine inches at least.
They all groan.
Too cold to snow, says the veteran in the group, an old wire service warhorse in suspenders and black orthopedic shoes. He’s been with UPI since the Scopes Trial. He blows a gob of spit onto the frozen ground and scowls up at the clouds, then at the main guard tower, which looks unnervingly like Cinderella’s Castle in Disneyland.
Too cold to stand out here, says the reporter from the New York Post. He mumbles something disparaging about the warden, who’s refused three times to let the media inside the prison. The reporters could be drinking hot coffee right now. They could be using the phones, making last-minute plans for Christmas. Instead the warden is trying to prove some kind of point. Why, they all ask—why?
Special thanks to our friends at Harper Collins Canada for providing and sharing this excerpt. Excerpted from the book Sutton by J.R. Moehringer.
Reprinted with permission of Harper Collins Canada.