CRITICAL PRAISE FOR WAY PAST LEGAL
Green’s third novel (after Shooting Dr. Jack and The Angel of Montague Street) starts like a gritty crime yarn, told in slangy, crackling first-person prose by its tough but likable hero, an ex-con named Manny Williams. But early on, the story takes an unusual detour into something more like a coming-of-age tale. Turning the tables on his partner, Rosey, who, in a deft bait and switch, has managed to keep all the loot from a successful heist, Manny burgles his crony’s cache in New York. Then he sneaks his adorable five-year-old son, Nicky, out of foster care and hits the open road. When their car breaks down, the two stop in Maine, at the home of generous strangers Louis and Eleanor, who become surrogate grandparents in short order. Trouble inevitably follows, but not before Manny has come to know and like an assortment of good-hearted locals. Ironically, one is the town sheriff, Bookman, who asks Manny to help him with a problem: his deputy, Hopkins, has a habit of beating his girlfriend, Brenda, and Bookman wants to cure him of it. Manny, of course, has reasons of his own for not getting involved, but he knows the right thing to do even if hasn’t always done it in his life. As he grows attached to the people around him, he gradually learns that he can’t run from trouble: “I needed to stop taking the easy way out, stop sneaking out the back window, stop running away. I always thought I was so fucking smart.” That lesson is brought home to him with brutal force when his past comes back to haunt him. By breaking with formula conventions, Green creates genuine suspense and richly rewards the reader.
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*Starred Review* Writers with criminals for heroes have problems on their hands, the greatest being the question of how one makes the criminal sympathetic without seeming to side with psychopaths. Green, author of Shooting Dr. Jack (2001) and The Angel of Montague Street (2003), solves this problem by giving us a hero with a credible backstory, wry self-awareness, and a compelling problem to which he responds with heroism. Manny, who has been a “guest of the state” in Ossining, New York, a few times, narrates his story with a wonderful mix of street smarts and the kind of reflectiveness you might get if you’ve been sent away for a few years. Fresh out of the pen, Manny hooks up with another burglar for a million-dollar heist that goes bad in the sense that his partner in crime kills the other heisters and is after Manny (who has tricked the trickster by making off with the money). This gives Manny’s story its racing pulse. The heart of the story, though, is Manny’s love for his five-year-old son, trapped in the foster-care system. Can Manny pull off the heist of his life by getting his own son out of the system and running off to Maine? Tension and suspense abound as Manny tries to create a new life while his ex-partner and the cops attempt to track him down. Way past terrific. Connie Fletcher
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