Norman Green Way Past Legal Reviewed by Terry D'Auray

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Way Past Legal

Norman Green


US Hardcover First

ISBN: 0-06-056454-7

256 Pages; $24.95

Publication Date: June, 2004

Date Reviewed: September 8, 2004

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2004




In 'Way Past Legal', his third novel, writer Norman Green deftly blends a crafty crime story with an unusually poignant après-crime narrative. The crime story, of dishonor among thieves, is tough and terrific. The après-crime story, of a father's blossoming love for his son, is even better than that.

Manny Williams is a hardened, street-smart burglar who's learned most of life's lessons as a repeated guest of the New York penal system. He teams with his occasional partner, Rosey, a semi-smart, semi-psychotic criminal, to relieve some Russian mobsters of close to two million dollars of ill-gotten gains. With logic that makes sense only to those well-schooled in con, Manny decides to grab the full heist for himself. He also decides to grab, or grab back, his five-year-old son, Nicky, from foster care. With his hefty nest egg being carefully "laundered" by a trusted attorney, Manny and his son leave New York in search of a new beginning. In far northern Maine, well past the quaint, touristy coastal towns, their car breaks down and they are taken in by the locals.

That's the gist of the crime story, the beginning of the après-crime story, and of course, the set-up for the ultimate convergence of the two. And cynical readers like me, who twitch at the merest whiff of wholesome sentimentality, start thinking Ryan and Tatum O'Neal in 'Paper Moon'. But Green is an original and masterful story teller who takes 'Way Past Legal' way past the commonplace and cleverly turns it into a coming-of-age story, not the coming-of-age of five-year old Nicky, but of his thirty-something father.

Manny and Nicky grow increasingly involved with the unique characters they meet in this isolated part of northern Maine, and increasingly at home in the natural landscape. Green lets Manny tell this story in first person prose that is humorous and cynical, as bracing and hearty as the New Englanders that populate the cast. Manny describes the geography of the area with rich, believable detail and depicts the dirt poor but character-rich inhabitants with sharp precision and clear affection.

More interesting, though, is Manny's interior dialogue, heightened as he slowly develops a deepening affection for his son, and a growing doubt about his abilities as a parent. When he occasionally fails to measure up to the requirements of responsible parenting, Manny is the first to take himself aside for a serious one-on-one reprimand. His growing love for Nicky brings an end to his previous out-for-number-one and "cut and run" mentality. Manny's voice, his wry humor and extensive self-deprecating reportage keep this story real and riveting, and far, far from cloying, sweet or maudlin. Manny embarks on the path from felon to father, and as he grows and changes, the reader is rootin' for him (and Nicky) all the way. The reader is also well aware of the dark menace looming ahead.

As must happen, the crime story re-appears to threaten this growing father-son bond. The Russian mobsters, now seriously teed-off, track down Manny in his New England hideaway. They're followed immediately by Rosey, equally peeved. Neither the Russians nor Rosey give a rip about Manny's new-found role; they're looking only for the money and a little soul-satisfying revenge.

In a denouement that is tension-filled and exciting, Green ties up the two story threads with credibility and panache. After testing the reader's nerves and twisting the reader's stomach, Green soothes with a narrative that is satisfying, emotionally involving and sure to linger.