The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers: A Novel

The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers: A Novel

by Thomas Mullen


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812979299
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/08/2011
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 397,148
Product dimensions: 4.98(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.94(d)

About the Author

Thomas Mullen is the author of The Last Town on Earth, which was named Best Debut Novel of the Year by USA Today and Best Book of the Year by Chicago Tribune, and won the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for excellence in historical fiction. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and son.

Read an Excerpt


He was a man well accustomed to waking up in unorthodox positions and in all manner of settings. He’d slept on floors, in the pillowless crevices of old couch frames, amid the nettles of haylofts, against the steering wheels of parked cars. Whether it was stationary or in motion, Jason Fireson could sleep on it: he’d snoozed on buses, phaetons, boxcars. He’d nodded off standing up, sitting down, falling over.

But this was something new.

He didn’t know what he was lying on at first. He knew only that he was cold, that his skin was touching metal, and that he was naked. A thin sheet was pulled halfway up his chest.

He had suffered more than his share of automobile accidents and he was familiar with the awful feeling the following mornings. This was worse. He sat up gradually, the muscles and tendons of his neck and arms achingly stiff. He thought that it would have been difficult to imagine being any more sore without being dead.

He inhaled. He was accustomed as well to waking to all nature of scents—to animals in the barn below, or unwashed criminals sweating in a cramped room, or Darcy’s occasional and disastrous breakfasts. But this was a strange, bitter vapor trying in vain to mask more human evidence of body odor, urine, and blood. The room was brightly lit, two overhead lights and desk lamps on either side casting their jaundiced glow. He looked to his left and saw cruel medical implements lying on a narrow metal table, some of them wrapped in gauze or cloth and all of them lying in a pool of dried blood. A hospital room, then. He’d never woken up in one of those before, so add that to the list. It was an unusual hospital, and his eyes took stock of the various items his physicians had left behind. On the same table as those grisly tools was a camera and its tall flash, an empty pack of cigarettes, and an overflowing ashtray.

One of the lamps flickered on and off every few seconds. Heavy footsteps followed invisible paths above the ceiling. He could taste the memory of blood in the back of his throat, and when he swallowed he nearly gagged at the dryness.

The tiled floor was filthy, as if his physicians moonlighted as hog farmers and had tracked mud throughout the sick ward. Ringing the room at waist level was a narrow counter, and in the corner a large radio was precariously balanced on it, the announcer’s smooth voice earnestly recounting the latest WPA project. Most alarming was the policeman’s cap hanging from a hook on the back of a door, framed photographs of unsmiling officers haunting three different walls, and, on the wall behind his bed, the portrait of what Jason figured for a governor—guys with jowls like that just had to be governors—glaring at him like a corpulent god.

He noticed that the fingertips of his left hand were blackened with ink, those five blotches the very picture of guilt, of shame, and some very unfortunate luck indeed.

At the far end of the room a similarly unclothed, half-covered man lay on a cot, pushed up against the wall as if trying to keep as far from Jason Fireson as possible.

Then Jason noticed that it wasn’t a cot.

He lifted himself from elbows to palms, the sheet slipping down to his waist. His eyes widened at the grotesque marks on his chest. They looked like boils that had been lanced with dirty scalpels and had become infected, drying out crusted and black as they sank back into his flesh. Two were in his upper chest just beneath his clavicle, another was a couple of inches southeast of his left nipple, and three more were in his abdomen. Jason had always been proud of his physique, and for a moment—a brief one—his thoughts ran to profound disappointment at the way these wounds marred his well-proportioned pectorals and flat stomach. But he had been shot before—months ago, in his left forearm—and he knew the markings for what they were, even as all rational thought argued the contrary.

In a panic he tore the sheet off his body and let it collapse like a dispelled ghost onto the tiled floor. He wanted to touch the wounds but was afraid to.

“Well this is a hell of a thing.”

He sat there for a moment, then forced his neck to scan the room again. Objects that before had been fuzzy declared themselves. To his right was a third cooling board, which had been obscured from view by a table between them. He thought he knew the face lying in profile upon it—how could he not?—except for the fact that he’d never seen his brother look so peaceful.

Jason stood, the tile cold on his feet, and stared wide-eyed at Whit. He reached forward and hesitantly touched his brother’s stubbly left cheek. It felt cold, but everything felt cold at that moment. He grabbed the sheet that lay up to his brother’s neck, waited a moment, and slowly began to pull it down. In the center of Whit’s chest, like a target, was what could only be a bullet wound.

As he took in this sight he breathed slowly—yes, he was breathing, despite all the metal he must be carrying inside, clanging about like a piggy bank—and leaned forward in grief, involuntarily putting his right hand on his brother’s biceps. It flexed into alertness, and Whit’s head turned toward Jason. Whit’s jaw was clenched and his brows quivered. Then his eyes darted down.

“You’re naked,” Whit said.

“That hardly seems the most noteworthy thing here.” Their voices were hoarse.

Whit sat up, still staring at Jason’s pockmarked chest. Eventually his eyes shifted down to his own body, and he lurched back as if shot again, nearly falling from his cooling board.

“What . . .?” His voice trailed off.

“I don’t know.”

They stared at each other for a long while, each waiting for the other to explain the situation or to bust up at the practical joke.

Jason swallowed, which hurt, and said, “For the sake of discussion I’m at least going to ask if this has ever happened to you before.”

“Not in my worst dreams.”

“I thought you never remember your dreams.”

“Well, I would think I’d remember something like this!”

“Shh. We’re in a police station, for Chrissake.”

Whit hopped off his cooling board. “Do you remember anything?”

“No.” Jason reversed down his mental map, wildly careening through each turn and over every bump. “I remember being in Detroit, I remember driving with the money to meet with Owney. . . . But that’s it. I don’t remember if we even made it to the restaurant.”

“Me neither. Everything’s all fuzzy.”

Jason felt a sudden need to look back at his own cooling board, in case he was a spirit and had left his husk behind. But no.

Whit started glancing around the room again as if searching for a perfectly rational explanation. Maybe these weren’t bullet wounds but something else.

“How could we . . .” he tried to ask. “How could we have survived this?”

“I don’t know. We’ve survived a lot so far, so why not—”

Whit pointed to his wound. “Look at this, Jason!”

“Shhh. Keep it down, goddamnit. And, no thank you, I’ve looked at it enough.”

Whit turned around. “Where’s the exit wound? Do you think it could have managed to slip out and miss the major organs?”

Jason waved him off without looking. “What about all of mine?”

Whit turned back around and briefly examined his brother’s chest. “I don’t know, maybe they . . .” Then he looked at Jason’s face. “You’re white as a sheet, too.”

Jason lightly slapped his own face. “I’ll get some color once we get out of here. C’mon, let’s figure a way out.”

Whit tapped at his chest. Then he closed his eyes for a moment, opened them. “I don’t feel dead.”

“Thank you for clarifying that.”

“But, I mean, I’m breathing. Are you breathing? How do you feel?”

“I feel stiff but . . . normal.” Indeed, Jason was feeling less sore the more he moved, as if all that his joints needed was to be released from their locked positions. “Shockingly normal. You?”

Whit nodded. “But if we’ve survived this and have been recovering here for a few hours, or days, shouldn’t we . . . feel a little worse?”

“I don’t know, maybe we’re on some crazy medication. Or maybe they used some new kind of bullets. Who knows? Look, a police station isn’t the place to be wondering about this. We don’t have time.”

Jason turned off the radio. A closer inspection of the police hat on the wall informed him that they were in Points North, Indiana. He told Whit.

“Where the hell is Points North?”

“Not far from Valparaiso,” Jason said. The plan had been to pick up the girls at a motel outside Valparaiso after the cash drop-off in Detroit. So had the drop-off been successful, only to have something go wrong when they tried to get the girls?

Jason motioned to the third cooling board at the other end of the room. “Come on, let’s see who our accomplice is. Maybe he has some answers.”

He walked over to the body, Whit following after bunching his sheet around his waist. The man on the third board was every bit as naked under his sheet and every bit as bad off. He was big, once inflated but now sagging, and a gunshot to the left side of his neck had not only left a large wound but had torn at the loose skin, shreds hanging there. The crooked bridge of his nose boasted that he’d survived previous acts of violence before succumbing to this one.

“I don’t know him,” Whit said. “You?”

Jason shook his head. Something in the man’s face, as well as the fact that the doctors or morticians had separated him from them, made Jason certain this was a cop.

“Hey, buddy,” Jason said, a little more loudly. “You awake?” He snapped his fingers over the man’s face, but nothing. Whit slapped the man’s cheek.

“Have some respect,” Jason chided him. He waited a moment, but the slap went unanswered. Then he placed his thumb between the man’s right eye and eyebrow, pressing at the socket of his skull and pulling up to reveal the still, hazel eye beneath. This man seemed content enough in his death not to be fighting it.

“I guess whatever we have isn’t contagious,” Jason said. He patted the corpse’s cold chest. “Okay, buddy. Rest in peace.”

The room had a lone window, small and high on the wall. Twilight was fading, and the clock beside the window called the time quarter past eight. What day was it? Jason had the vague feeling an entire day had passed since his last memory, if not more.

“What the hell happened?” Whit asked again.

“Let’s figure it out later. When we’re very far from here.”

Beyond the dead man’s feet was a wooden door; on its two hooks hung not only an officer’s cap but also a white medical coat, which Jason grabbed. The coat barely cloaked him, and it was so thin it was nearly transparent.

Jason began opening the drawers that lined the left-hand wall, hoping to find something worth taking. He had never been comfortable around doctors, and being alone in a medical room rife with their soiled detritus was even worse. He felt like the fool in an old silent movie who spelunks the depths of a monster’s lair without noticing the shadow growing behind him. He found a roll of surgical tape and some gauze and tossed them to Whit, who gave him a confused look.

“I don’t know, we might need ’em later.”

He continued fumbling among the forceps and pliers and shears that lay on the tables, taking the two longest scalpels and handing one to his brother.

“The window?” Whit asked.

“You can tramp around in the nude if you’d like, but I want some clothes first.”

Jason had broken into and out of several buildings in his time: police stations and armories; the federally monitored homes of friends and family; a county jail; hell, even a moving train. On some of those occasions he had been unarmed, but never unclothed. He felt his nudity was an unfair handicap, the cops violating some essential code.

The room had a second door on the opposite wall. They pressed their ears to one and then the other, deciding that the one by the dead cop was the safest bet—through the other door they’d heard a dull rumble of activity.

Jason turned the doorknob slowly, glanced back at his brother a step behind him, and nodded. Then he leaned his weight into the door, his right hand clutching the scalpel still encrusted with his own blood.

It was a narrow hallway, white tiled floor and unpainted white walls, and just beyond was another door. Through that was a locker room, movable wooden benches lining the walls. It smelled of soap and sweat; an opening in the wall to the left led to some stalls, probably some showers—but all was quiet.

Jason silently opened the few unlocked lockers but found nothing. Whit did the same from the opposite wall until they met in the center.

Despite the speed of Jason’s heartbeat—either his heart was still beating or he could feel the lost echo of such vibrations like an amputee’s phantom pain—he was still cold, and the tile against the soles of his feet caused him to shiver. He stepped back into the middle of the room and found himself in full view of a mirror hanging between two lockers. Distracted as usual by his reflection, he stared at the dark bullet wounds visible through his thin coat. Then he noticed his hair—he ran his fingers through it but still it hung ragged down his forehead.

“They cut off some of my hair. Jesus.”

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The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Tony495 More than 1 year ago
This takes place during the depression, but it invites reflection on today's economic conditions. At first, I thought the plot premise implausible, but after twenty pages I was hooked! The characters and storyline provides grist for great discussions. Once again, Mullen has taken an historical viewpoint that somehow holds a magnifying glass to our current milieu. A spectacular and fast-paced read!
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1933 and the first half of 1934, a Great Depression frightened public adore the Firefly brothers though Jason and Whit Fireson are violent bank robbers. The siblings do what many dream of doing but are too afraid when they boldly commit robberies. However, in August 1934, proud law enforcement authorities announce the end of these vicious felons as the bullet ridden corpses of the Firefly brothers lay in an Indiana morgue. Their girlfriend Darcy Veronica are heartbroken with grief as is their mom and though a straight shooter their brother Weston. However, the cops prove premature with their bloody announcement as Jason and Whit wake up and calmly leave the morgue to begin the further escapes in legends of The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers. Although how the siblings stay alive through their dangerous capers is never explained, fans will not care as the Firefly Brothers adventures are a timely allegorical historical; desperate people have given up on a pathetic government and turned to antiheroes as champions. Action-packed, this is a terrific parable that uses the war on crime during the Great Depression in comparison with the war on terrorism during the Great Recession. The stark reality of the Great Depression on the lives of ordinary people is enhanced by the fantastic Firefly brothers who symbolize the frustration with government that fails to act (Henry Higgins Effect of Democrats in charge) or unwilling to act (Pygmalion Effect of Republicans in charge) when the need is obvious, which implies in charge or not Republicans win and people lose so they turn to antiheroes. Harriet Klausner
Nextian on LibraryThing 7 months ago
"The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers" begins when a couple of Depression-era bank robbers, Jason and Whit Fireson, wake up in a morgue. They have no memory of the previous day, but plenty of evidence suggesting that they had been killed. The novel follows them as they search for their missing girls and information as to how they died.This is one of the best books I've read in quite a while. The writing was excellent, the story was exciting and the plot was innovative. I definitly plan on reading more of Mr. Mullen's works in the future.
nycbookgirl on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Let me just say right here that I absolutely loved this book. LOVED it! Please go rent, borrow or buy this book and check it out! It's seriously one of my top favorite books I've read in the last few years.Here's the plot:It's 1934 and the Great Depression is in full swing in America. Jason and Whit Fireson have turned to bank robbing as their means of surviving. Jason is seeing Darcy Windham, the disinherited daughter of a wealthy automobile manufacturer. Whit has his hastily married wife, Veronica, and small son to look after. They've also left behind a mother mourning her late husband and a younger brother who is trying to make a living despite having the unfortunate last name of a couple of bank robbers. As the brother's notoriety rises, so does their fame with J. Edgar Hoover's team of newly created FBI agents tracking down America's public enemies.So this all sounds ok but what's the big hoopla about? Seriously, read the first chapter. The story starts out with Jason and Whit waking up naked in what appears to be their death beds in the back of a police station. They are assumed dead by the police and their death photos appear in all the newspapers. Thus begins the start of the many deaths of the Firefly Brother's as they attempt to score their last heist so they can retire. What happened that night?I loved how this book starts out and how the whole story unfolds. I loved each character even though they were all pretty flawed. I even enjoyed the side stories with Darcy, Veronica, and their brother Weston. The book is never boring. It's got police shootouts, bank heists, kidnapping, speakeasies, and really makes the setting of the Great Depression come alive.Go out, find this book and read the first chapter and I guarantee you will be hooked.
bragan on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Depression-era bank robbers Jason and Whit Fireson (aka the Firefly brothers) are shot to death, but inexplicably find themselves returning to life in a police morgue hours later, with no memory of the events that lead to their deaths. It's an incredibly intriguing beginning, but unfortunately the rest of the book doesn't really live up to it. The story spends remarkably little time on the mysteries of what happened that night (which is eventually explained) and why they keep resurrecting (which really isn't). And there's very little forward momentum to the story at all for much of the novel. Instead, there's a near-endless series of flashbacks showcasing the brothers' family history, why they turned to a life of crime, how they met their girlfriends, etc. It's not entirely uninteresting, and eventually it pretty much all does tie in to the current-day plot, but it just doesn't meet the expectations set up by the premise; the characters simply aren't compelling enough for that. Indeed, I occasionally got the impression that Mullen might perhaps have been happier just writing a non-fiction book about the Great Depression's hard times and gangster legends, and dispensing with the story altogether.Which isn't to say that it's a bad book. It's quite readable. There's some decent action, and some moderately interesting revelations. But I just couldn't help feeling disappointed with it.
PirateJenny on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Early Reviewer winWow. I wasn't sure what to expect from this novel. I'd already read The Last Town on Earth by the same author and was impressed with it. This novel is so different that I'm amazed it's by the same author.The Firefly Brothers--Jason and Whit Fireson--are bank robbers. It's the height of the Great Depression and the FBI has recently been formed. Dillinger is dead. And so, apparently, are the Firefly Brothers. Or so it's been reported. But something's a bit off. Jason and Whit wake up in a place they're not familiar with, unable to recall exactly what happened. The room is a morgue. The death of the Firefly Brothers has been announced by the local authorities. Clearly, however, the brothers are not dead. (Or even undead.) It gives them a bit of an edge and they're able to get back home and try to decide what to make of their lives. Then Jason's girlfriend is kidnapped.The book is reminiscent of Public Enemies, in language, in story, in style. It's a great crime story, but it's about the characters not their crimes. It's also very visual--I was watching the events unfold as I read.With such different novels told in such different styles. I have no idea what Mullen will do next, but I'm looking forward to it.
speakfreelynow on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I really did not love this book. To be honest, I couldn't even get halfway through. I tried and tried, but it was just NOT pulling me in. The relationships between the brothers was interesting, as was the mystery of their rebirths, but the women bogged the story down, as did the boring descriptions of bank-robbing. Now, bank-robbing should not be boring. Neither should women. Hence my disappointment. I was disappointed because it's a good idea, with potential for interesting characters and got very good professional reviews. I'll pass it along to someone else in case they can love it, because I just can't. I can't even like it.
allejean on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I am a fan of Thomas Mullen - I loved The Last Town on Earth, and The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers is nearly the same quality. The Firefly Brothers takes a little getting used to. You are thrown into the book the first time the brothers wake up from death, and the reading experience is a bit confusing. Once I got used to the flow of the book, I enjoyed the story. It was fun to read about the Great Depression, and the book was full of factoids (which I assume have some basis in truth) about how people felt and dealt with extreme poverty. I liked the characters and the story and situations were exciting and unusual.The only problem I had was that Mullen spends most of the book - especially the first few sections - going back and forth between the past and the present. I haven't gone to the trouble of adding it up, but I would guess that more than half of the book takes place in the past, explaining how the Firefly brothers became outlaws and started dying. I understand why the book was written that way and I did get used to it fairly quickly, but I did get a little tired of the back and forth. This is the only reason the book lost a star.Mullen is a master writer and storyteller with a knack for picking historical topics with great relevance to the present-day. I will definitely recommend this book to a number of people, even those I don't normally tell about historical fiction.
kristenn on LibraryThing 7 months ago
A fun, pulpy thrill ride. I'm much more interested in noir than in the supernatural, so I was happy with the balance struck there with the plot. Apart from that recurring bit of oddness, it was your basic caper story. The characters weren't all likable, but they were consistently three-dimensional. I didn't predict everything -- some nice red herrings -- but no reveal felt like an out-of-nowhere cheat. Appreciated how the context of the Depression had some really vivid historical detail without trying to make a point. It was more people with good luck and people with bad luck than villains and victims. Mullen puts a lot of effort into his language and sometimes it gets distractingly flowery. But the upside is when he really nails a passage. Not necessarily a book to read when you're under stress. I tried that and actually had to set it aside for a couple months. There are sequences where you can almost feel your pulse quicken. My mother read my copy right after I finished it and we disagreed on what exactly happened in a few areas, but areas that seemed deliberately ambiguous. I didn't mind that it left things to chew over. (There was a very unrealistically-timed nap near the end that still bothers me, but my mother thought it could happen.)
karieh on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Gangs, molls and robbing banks. Just the ingredients for a good-old yarn, right? You can practically smell the gunpowder and spilled gin¿ And yet? ¿The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers¿ is more than that. Much more.First, I need to say that this Depression-era novel was eerily reminiscent of today. Of this time in our country where nothing is certain and days are filled with fear and worry about what the next day may bring. This book is set in 1934 ¿ but there many similarities to what is making the news in 2010.¿The reality we¿d all believed in, so fervently and vividly, was revealed to be nothing but a trick of our imagination, or someone else¿s, some collective mirage whose power to entrance us had suddenly and irrevocably failed. What¿had happened? What had we done to ourselves? The looks I saw on people¿s faces. The shock of it all. Capitalism had failed, democracy was a sad joke. Our country¿s very way of life was at death¿s door, and everyone had a different theory of what would rise up to take its place.¿Jason and Whit Fireson rob banks. They steal money from the few places that still have money in 1934 ¿ and they become anti-heroes to the Americans who are so desperate and so angry at seeing all they believed in and trusted being destroyed. Banks are foreclosing at constant rates, people are out of work, the stock market has crashed, and families are desperate. So when the pair starts garnering fame for stealing from those who are perceived as causing the financial chaos¿they are dubbed the ¿Firefly Brothers¿ and their admirers start to outnumber their pursuers.I picked this book hoping for some pure escapism, but got instead a great story AND some great insights.¿People tell their stories to place themselves somewhere solid in this great swirl that they can¿t otherwise understand. The stories define what is possible, what the tellers yearn for, what they believe they deserve. The self-made man, the American dream, Capitalism, socialism, religion ¿ all those narratives that try to contain everyone¿s desires and fears within neat lines. Different tales, different obstacles, but the hero is always us, and the ending has us attainting what we¿ve always wished for.¿Wow¿I just had to read that again.This really was a great story. It was a compelling tale of escape and adventure, of getaway cars and hideouts. Of double-crosses and dirty money. A chance to enter the mind of a criminal and look around.¿The right thing was confusing, and difficult, and sometimes Jason wondered if it was in fact a nonexistent ideal, like heaven or the American dream. There was no right thing. You did what you did for whatever reasons occurred to you at the time, depending on whichever emotion was running thickest in your blood. Your desire and fear and adrenaline and longing. You made your choice and came up with the reasons later.¿ But what I keep coming back to is not what the story had to say about Depression-era criminals, but about us, about people in general. People who aren¿t criminals, but who find themselves forced to consider choices they never expected.¿We believe there are things that are possible and things that are not, actions we can imagine doing and others that are beyond the pale. But then doors are swung shut and what once was impossible, unthinkable, is there before us, happening to us. Sometimes we throw open the doors ourselves, sometimes someone else pushes them open and points at what lies beyond. Sometimes we don¿t even want to look. But we never have a choice.¿Law abiding citizens and criminals. Seemingly different sides of a coin ¿ polar opposites. But in uncertain times, when the world seems upside down¿identifying which one is good and which is bad becomes a much harder task.
C.Vick on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Things I expected from this book: Great historical feel, a good mystery, excitement, and great characters.What I got from this book: Not those things.First and foremost, I was looking forward to a good historical novel, with a Depression era feel and some good info on bootleggers and gangsters. However, the overall feel of the novel was decidedly modern, with Mullen trying to make some obvious comparisons between the Great Depression and today's economic climate. There was nothing very period about the novel.I did get a good mystery -- several of them in fact. They were enough to keep me reading. However, there is no frustration like hanging on to a novel one is not quite enjoying just so one can at least find out the answer... only to not have the answer.Excitement was there, in between long gaps of dull non-action. The red cover, the fast-moving figure, the subject matter -- all these things promise fast pace, hard action and adventure. This novel was mostly introspective.And introspective works when the characters have depth, but most of these fell flat for me. I liked Whit, somewhat, but got mostly Jason and his girlfriend Darcy. Oh, well. Not my cup of tea... or my glass of bootleg whiskey.
lyzadanger on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Don't worry: You won't be bored. Thomas Mullen's sophomore effort combines gee whiz action scenes with the historical pathos of 1930s Americana and deceptively straightforward characters in a novel that ends up feeling bigger than the sum of its parts.The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers is a study in cultural mythology. It's a look at the meaning of truth and the melding of reality with legend. It's a myth packed within a myth—the novel's specific arc, the story of the much-apotheosized bank-robbing brothers Fireson, is wrapped within some of our most romanticized 20th-century national memories: 1930s Depression-glam, replete with Tommy gun-toting gorillas, Packards, and speakeasies. The story opens in 1934, the country at the pinnacle of its economic grief. The criminal brothers, Jason and Whit Fireson, have just died. They have woken up in a rural Indiana morgue, riddled with gunshots, with no memory of how they perished. Never a dull moment: the action starts here and never stops. We find that the brothers' crime spree carries with it the implications of weightier things than their immediate motives of family grief and financial straits. Their crimes, which may or may not include ripping up failing mortgages and sparing regular Joes while targeting the fat cats, are also viewed by a desperate Midwest populace as acts of heroism, judgment, divine inspiration. So it's not surprising that, when their bodies go missing, there is a significant minority of Americans who think them invincible. And maybe they are. The brothers, who may or may not be alive, now have to contend with their missing sweethearts: Whit's impoverished wife, Victoria; Jason's brash automotive heiress, Darcy. Here more adventure and derring-do occur.It takes some pages and experience with his cadence to grow accustomed to Mullen's style. Though Mullen does drop some rather plunky dialog at times—it's not his strongest suit—what sometimes sound hackneyed in the rest of his writing is somewhat illusory. You see, the corniness is intentional; the narrator himself (and I suggest you consider while you are reading: who is this narrator?) is part of the warp and weft of the storytelling. Mullen writes neither sparsely nor densely, paving an interesting middle ground that often just stays out of the way of the gunshots and car chases. But then he'll drop a phrase so well-turned that one struggles to believe it isn't already a cliché or a proverb. I like things like these:'She didn't know what to do with that comment, so she dropped it onto the floor and they both looked at it for a moment.'
—Page 100The passage carries the bluntness and bravado of a hardboiled adventure without sentimentality, but also feels expressive. And despite its plain Jane ability to spin a yarn, the novel is quietly doing something more meaningful in the background the entire time. By the end—and I didn't know what that end would be until literally the last paragraph—its apparent that the characters have taken on a life of their own and maybe things aren't as you thought. Maybe you chose the wrong myth to believe.
RidgewayGirl on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I can't write a reasoned, objective review of this book because I loved it so, so much. If I were living in 1934, and the Firefly Brothers were, well, not fictional, I'd be filling scrapbooks with newspaper clippings of their exploits. The book opens with Jason Fireson waking up in a morgue. He's pretty good at sleeping anywhere, but he's never woken up naked on a metal table before. He's also got a row of welt-like holes on his chest. It doesn't take him long to find his brother on an adjacent table, wake him up and make their escape from the police station, thanks to an all too frightened officer they find in a locker room, who seems to think that they should be dead. The brothers can't remember anything of the last few days and so the book moves back and forth through time, telling the story of how they became infamous bank robbers and of what happened to them after they woke from the dead. There's a mystery here, too, of what happened to get them killed in the first place. Mullen takes the unbelievable and weaves it with a realistic depiction of how unrelentingly difficult the depression was for millions of Americans, sending families to live in ramshackle Hoovervilles and causing men to fight for any job available.
yourotherleft on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Should he believe this one? He'd lost track of the number of bank robberies attributed to his brothers - sometimes multiple banks on the same day, on opposite sides of the country. He was surprised that law enforcement hadn't found a way to pin the Lindbergh kidnapping on them, or maybe even the stock-market crash, or the depression itself. People seemed to believe his brothers possessed special gifts - that they could journey across space, multiply themselves, predict the future. They weren't men but ghosts, trickster spooks who disobeyed not only man's laws but God's as well.It's the middle of the Great Depression in the United States. Unemployment rates are off the charts. The Hoovervilles are growing as more and more people lose their jobs and are evicted from their homes. Men wander the streets and stand in breadlines hoping to make enough money and get enough food to get by another day, another week. Having failed to make a living the "right" way under these inhospitable conditions, Jason and Whit Fireson turned to making ends meet in more nefarious ways. After the death of John Dillinger, the Firesons also known as "The Firefly Brothers," have become number one public enemies. A pair of skilled bank robbers, with their bold and well-timed strikes against villified financial institutions the Firefly Brothers have become both loved and feared by the less fortunate and more law abiding citizens of the US. With the help of the media, their lawless deeds have ballooned into a modern mythology. However, there's far more to the Firesons even than what the papers suppose.The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers opens up a window on the lives of the unlikeliest of heros. Easily moving backward and forward through time from the perspectives of both themselves, Jason's girlfriend, and their decidedly less infamous brother, Mullen makes the "mythical" Firesons into the real people they are, for better and for worse. While it's a rollicking tale of dashing bank robbers, high speed chases, narrow escapes, and shootouts, The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers is much, much more. It's a mystery wrapped in a touch of magic and modern day myth. It's an unfortunate yet vividly accurate picture of a painful era of American history when men were reduced to helpless shells of themselves who couldn't hope to provide for their families and found themselves looking to bank robbers to provide the hope and the power that was missing from their lives. It's a saga about a family derailed by a father whose American dream turned into a nightmare and a son who couldn't seem to do the right thing, even when he tried his hardest. It's a story that starts, literally, with a bang and an impossible surprise, and slowly peels off layer after layer until we know all the players intimately, revealing the resolution to the mystery bit by bit keeping the pages turning until the ending that, if you're anything like me, you'll never see coming.
BCCJillster on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Absolutely loved this book and was telling my friends about it when I was only a third of the way in. Mullen takes the 1930s gangster teams to a new level by turning the usual tale on its head right off the bat. Set at a time when bank robbers could just as easily be seen as hero or villain, because of all the foreclosures by the banks (sound familiar?), the Firefly Brothers' spree takes on legendary status and for darn good reasons. But...I won't spoil the fun. Suspend disbelief and take the ride with Jason and Whit; it's bumpy but you'll love the wind in your hair almost as much as Darcy did.Along the way we're forced to think about family relationships, brother to brother, son to father, and how moral choices are made and justified. We also get to 'feel' the Depression from ground level. But it's actually a lot more fun than all that sounds. Heck, just read it for the romping adventure and you'll enjoy it. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I was supposed to enjoy it quite this much. 100% guarantee that there will be arguments about the ending and I look forward to that fun. I can't wait to see what Mullen writes next and what my friends have to say about this book.
GirlMisanthrope on LibraryThing 7 months ago
The book opens with the Fireson brothers', Jason and Whit, first death when they wake up in the morgue. While they are flummoxed as to how this happened, being "dead" comes in handy for serial bank robbers since no one is expecting them.The story bounces back and forth to the brothers past, which frustrated me a bit until it paid off toward the end when the author uses this to illuminate some of the mysteries. The book is divided into each death they experience. The author's research pays off; his descriptions of Depression-era America, of criminals, of Hoover, of the clothing of the period serve to completely immerse you in the story, allowing you to feel the awe of the phenomenon that is happening to the two brothers. Family and loyalty are strong themes. It was interesting to see some parallels between the Depression era and what's happening with our economy now.
msf59 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
In the summer of¿34, Jason and Whit Fireson wake up in the morgue. Apparently both have died from gunshot wounds, possibly in a police ambush. A miracle or a second chance? You¿ll have to take a ride along with the Firefly brothers, to find out. They are a pair of Depression-era bank robbers, modeled after Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd, reviled by the law and adored by the public.This is a well-written and exciting tale, chock full of machine-guns, kidnappings, double-crosses and of course car chases, with the intrepid police always in hot pursuit.Mullen writes in clean fast prose and he¿s done his homework too. Highly recommended.
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Anna-Marie More than 1 year ago
The Many Deaths of the Firefly by Thomas Mullen is an amazing book. It is one of those rare titles where everything works. Starting with the outside, it has a deep red jacket with a fedora clad silhouette walking towards the reader its trench coat flapping slightly. It has an intriguing title that makes you want to pick it up, and it is a hefty in size. The book is about a pair of Dillinger-esque bank robbers called the Firefly Brothers. As you read Mullen's beautiful prose you settle into a non-chronological account of two men caught up in their own story. For this book is very much about story - the stories in the newspapers, the stories they tell each other (and the ones they don't), the history and mythology of the era, and even the stories they can't remember. ".people need to tell their stories to place themselves somewhere solid in this great swirl." - Mullen Jason is the dapper one, as charmed as he is charming. He didn't want any part of his father's store and the two strong men butted heads. So, Jason took off to become a driver for a bootlegging operation. Sure it was illegal, but wasn't Prohibition the real crime, seemed to be the thought process, besides he like the fast cars and the good clothes. Two jail stints and his father's death, which haunts the book, escalated him bootlegger to bank robber. He honestly hadn't wanted to get his brothers involved in what he did, but eventually he saw no choice, especially when it came to Wit. Wit, the youngest Fireson, is rougher around the edges then his brother and not nearly so vain. He is on the path of anger fueled self-destruction and Jason figures if he takes him along then at least he can attempt damage control. Together they have adventures galore and the next big score is always right around the corner. Jason tries not to think of the killing as his fault -self defense or an over zealous conspirator. He tries to reject the newspapers myth making and see himself as level-headed. But, little of this do you find out right away. See, Jason and his brother Wit are introduced to us waking up on cold metal slabs in a police morgue. They'd been killed and have the bullet holes to prove it. They know who they are, but not how they got there. The book bounces around in time telling you stories from various points of view. Some are from past, many are from the present and they all stitch themselves together nicely. Conjuring as if by magic, what it meant to live in that era, why people mythologies some criminals, and how these men found themselves in that life, even if they are not sure why they are alive. "She wanted to breathe the brothers back into life with their stories." - Mullen Books like this one enthrall me. I listened to this one audio too, even though I love the physical book. The audio production is superb. It is read by William Dufris whose voice I remembered from listening to a Richard K. Morgan novel a while back. He really breathes life into all the characters. The author talks about the phoneme of someone speech or there geographically dialect and Dufris keeps pace with it all. In the end The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers is a wonderful historical fiction that I'm sure my co-workers will get tired of me raving about. It is the kind of wonderful that makes me afraid that any clumsiness in my review will turn somebody off to it, yet I can't just leave it at, "A Must Read!"