Loosely based on a true story, 'Willie the Actor' is a novel about an ordinary man leading an extraordinary double-life of crime. His story, which has a theatrical touch to it, begins in New York in the Roaring Twenties and spans two and a half decades. Bill Sutton's career as a bank robber was unique: he never resorts to violence or fires a gun in his life. But it was believed that he was jinxed, and almost everyone he works with comes to a violent end. Married for only a year, he explains his sudden wealth to his wife by telling her it was an inheritance from a rich uncle. Soon after, police intrude on his domestic bliss with his new born baby. He is shopped by his accomplice's wife, enraged because of her husband's philandering. After serving a year in Sing Sing, he escapes. Now known to the newspapers as Willie the Actor, because of the modus operandi of his robberies, using a mythical drama school to hire uniforms at theatrical costumiers, he continues to rob banks. In 1932, his accomplices are chased and shot by the police, and Bill is himself caught and sentenced to between 25 and 50 years at Eastern State Penitentiary - one of the toughest jails in the country.After three unsuccessful escape attempts, each time being given a longer sentence added to the original, in 1947 he escapes again.He manages to go straight for five years, working in an old people's home, under a new identity, but he meets a former associate and passes on details of an easy bank to rob. The robbery carries Bill's hallmark, and he is caught and ironically given the biggest sentence of his career for the one bank job he hasn't done. During his first escape from Sing Sing, he had sent his daughter a Happy Birthday telegram. Visiting her father in jail, she shows him the telegram which she has kept all those years, because deep down she knows him to be a good man who loves her, and he is finally reconciled with the one person he most loves and trusts, and will stay loyal to him. Prior to his trial, Sutton becomes a popular figure, attaining a Robin Hood-like status. But the man who spotted him on the subway and informed the police, is shot in each eye, the traditional way of dealing with informers. Following this crime, although no one really believed that the gentle Sutton had anything to do with it, he loses public sympathy.At the age of 52, he is sentenced to 30 years to life. Everyone Sutton comes into contact with likes him.Even the prison warden tells him, 'You know, Bill, I think if you gave me your word not to escape, I could let you cut the grass on the outside.' Sutton smiles and replies: 'Ah, but you know, I'd never give you my word, Warden.' As well as a fictionalized story of crime and an escape drama, Willie the Actor is also a chronicle of the times, as Sutton makes his criminal ways surrounded by figures such as real life gangsters like the notorious Dutch Schultz, through prohibition and the Depression to the early Fifties.