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The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers (2010)

by Thomas Mullen

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When the colder, darker weather of autumn comes along, I seem to gravitate towards stories with a slightly darker feel to them, be it Gothic, noir or something a bit on the gritty side. Mullen’s Depression-era story is the perfect read to go along with rainy, wind-swept days. The title is an apt one, and provides the reader with a bit of insight into the story considering the story starts out with the Fireson brothers resurrection. One may throw their hands up in frustration at this but Mullen uses this “spoiler” of his own disclosure to build a wonderful story around the fact that the Fireson brothers have no memories of the events that lead to them “waking up” in the police morgue with their bodies altered by what looks like bullet holes. The story takes the reader on a Depression-era crime adventure in keeping with the myth, legend and lore of outlaw celebrities the likes of the Dillinger Gang and Bonny and Clyde. The story has everything – bank heists, bumbling cops, fedora-wearing Tommy-gun toting men, shoot-outs, a car chase, an intrepid young Bureau of Investigation agent, crooked business men and even a “damsel in distress”. While reading this one, I was able to see the story play out, like watching a flickering old black and white gangster movie.

The story has a decidedly noir feel to it, in part due to the gloomy Depression setting. Even with that gloom, the story provides glimpses of Robin Hood style flair as the Firefly Brothers become folk heroes of the destitute populous. There is a noticeable divide between the hard-core villains and the “charming gentlemen” criminals (hence that Robin Hood angle I mentioned earlier). Yes, the story has a phantasmagorical aspect to it in the resurrection of the Firefly Brothers and some of the story comes across as a bit of a cliché but, the heart of the story is really about a family (the Firesons) and the lies that people tell themselves and the people they love. The deep dive Mullen does into the past lives of his characters makes it stand out, for me anyways, from other bank heist-styled stories I have read to date. Outside of that core family piece, [The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers] is a wonderful escapism read where even the criminals are not “cut and dry” characters. As one reviewer has mentioned, “the story wonderfully illuminates why 1930’s America spawned so many dark heroes”. Everyone needs an idea or an individual to look up to, even if the attention is focused on an antihero. Under Mullen’s pen, one can easily see why antiheros can be so popular. ( )
  lkernagh | Nov 14, 2016 |
Well, I thought this was just fabulous. The "magic" of the brothers' immortality is very nicely done -- it adds to the story without overpowering it. The characters were well-drawn and not sentimentalized in any way.

Also, it is the second book this year that would make a fantastic Coen brothers movie (the first was [b:The Sisters Brothers|9850443|The Sisters Brothers|Patrick deWitt|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1291999900s/9850443.jpg|14741473]). ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
Book Description
Publication Date: January 20, 2010
BONUS: This edition contains a The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers discussion guide.

In award-winning author Thomas Mullen’s evocative and spirited novel, we follow the Depression-era adventures of Jason and Whit Fireson—bank robbers known as the Firefly Brothers by an adoring public that worships their acts as heroic counterpunches thrown at a broken system. Late one night in August 1934, following a yearlong crime spree across the Midwest, the Firefly Brothers are forced into a police shootout and die in a hail of bullets. Or do they? Jason and Whit’s girlfriends—Darcy, a wealthy socialite, and Veronica, a hardened survivor—struggle between grief and an unyielding belief that the Firesons are alive. Wild rumors spread that the bandits are still at large. Through it all, the Firefly Brothers remain as charismatic, unflappable, and as mythical as the American dream itself, racing to find the women they love and to make sense of a world in which all has come unmoored. ( )
  camtb | May 4, 2015 |
It's 1934, with brother outlaws Jason and Whit Fireson awakening in the morgue, pierced with deadly bullet holes and with no idea what's happened, or even whether they're alive, dead, or in between. As they struggle to make sense of their situation, and to escape and stay ahead of the cops, they take advantage of reports of their deaths to plan a few more heists and to find their girls, both of whom have disappeared. Death makes its appearance again (and again), and with the newly-formed FBI finally facing the fact that the Firesons may not really be dead, the law closes in. Will the brothers find their women, one of whom has been kidnapped, and manage to disappear before they're arrested and killed for good? And how many times can they wake from the grave before fate is done with them? This makes the novel sound supernatural, but it's not really. The resurrections are simply one part of the plot, just as confusing to the characters as to the narrator or the reader, and the questions of why and for how many repeats gives an added tension to the plot.

Life in the Great Depression is amply mined to show how the brothers' situation is difficult for the law to decipher: poor photos, lack of communication, piecemeal law enforcement. And the dialogue is often funny and very real, especially between the brothers. This is the second Mullen I've read, after "The Last Town on Earth", which I also gave 4 stars. Very enjoyable and recommended. ( )
2 vote auntmarge64 | Oct 14, 2013 |
OK, so get this:

The novel starts with the notorious gangsters/bank robbers, The Firefly Brothers, waking on their slabs in a county morgue, riddled with bullet holes and short term memory loss.

Scrappers that they are, they lay aside their momentary confusion and hit the road to a) find out what landed them there, b) find out what happened to the money and personnel from their last heist, and c) reconnect with the loves of their lives and family members all the while, of course, trying to find a way to turn their highly celebrated "death" to their advantage.

In a refreshing twist the "supernatural" aspect of this auspicious beginning becomes almost secondary to a great adventure/morality tale that is also a vivid portrait of the Midwest during the Great Depression. The characters are real. The danger is palpable. And the pages turn.

Pulp at its literary best. ( )
  JohnHastie | Apr 5, 2013 |
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Epigraph
Men's memories are uncertain, and the past that was differs little from the past that was not.
- Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
It seemed a little too pat. It had the austere simplicity of fiction rather than the tangled woof of fact.
- Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep
Dedication
For my parents, brothers, and sister.
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It all began when they died.
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Book description
Late one night in August 1934, following a yearlong spree of bank robberies across the Midwest, the Firefly Brothers are forced into a police shootout and die . . . for the first time.

In award-winning author Thomas Mullen’s evocative new novel, the highly anticipated follow-up to his acclaimed debut, The Last Town on Earth, we follow the Depression-era adventures of Jason and Whit Fireson—bank robbers known as the Firefly Brothers by the press, the authorities, and an adoring public that worships their acts as heroic counterpunches thrown at a broken system.

Now it appears they have at last met their end in a hail of bullets. Jason and Whit’s lovers—Darcy, a wealthy socialite, and Veronica, a hardened survivor—struggle between grief and an unyielding belief that the Firesons have survived. While they and the Firesons’ stunned mother and straight-arrow third son wade through conflicting police reports and press accounts, wild rumors spread that the bandits are still at large. Through it all, the Firefly Brothers remain as charismatic, unflappable, and as mythical as the American Dream itself, racing to find the women they love and make sense of a world in which all has come unmoored.

Complete with kidnappings and gangsters, heiresses and speakeasies, The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers is an imaginative and spirited saga about what happens when you are hopelessly outgunned—and a masterly tale of hardship, redemption, and love that transcends death.
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In this follow-up to The last town on earth, Depression-era Jason and Whit Fireson appear to have met their end in a hail of bullets. Jason and Whit's lovers--Darcy, a wealthy socialite, and Veronica, a hardened survivor--struggle between grief and an unyielding belief that the Firesons are alive. While they and the Firesons' stunned mother and straight-arrow brother wade through conflicting police reports and press accounts, wild rumors spread that the bandits are still at large.… (more)

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