My rating: 5 of 5 stars
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 (purchased from Audible.com) 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!”