WAY PAST LEGAL

Norman Green, Author . HarperCollins $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-056454-4

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. Agent, Brian DeFiore . (June)

Forecast: Green's drift away from standard neo-noir format is refreshing, but might not satisfy his usual audience. The moody, bucolic cover is effective, and should help attract the right kind of reader.

Reviewed on: 04/12/2004
Release date: 06/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-06-056566-4
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