This historical novel opens on December 24,1969. After serving 17 years of a life sentence in New York’s Attica State Prison, bank robber Willie “The Actor” Sutton has been released. A combination of good behavior, poor health, and headline-grabbing notoriety, has allowed career criminal Sutton to spend Christmas Eve in a posh suite at New York City’s swanky Plaza Hotel. Footing the bill for Willie’s Christmas gift is one of The Big Apple’s daily newspapers. A reporter and a photographer have arranged a one-day exclusive with Willie, hoping to get the scoop on a mysterious death that helped earn Sutton his “lifer” status in The Big House.
Moehringer juggles fact and fiction here to get a grasp on the life of the slippery Sutton, one of the FBI’s original “Ten Most Wanted” fugitives. With the frustrated newspapermen acting as surrogates for the reader, Sutton conducts a whirlwind tour of his criminal career through Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island. As Willie’s remembrance of things past continues, it becomes more and more clear that the bank robber’s version of his story may bear only a tenuous connection to the truth. As the reporter sums it up near the end of the novel, “...Sutton lived three lives. The one he remembered, the one he told people about, and the one that really happened.” Luckily for the reader, all three of the master criminal’s “lives” are equally fascinating.