cover image The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers

The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers

Thomas Mullen, . . Random, $26 (397pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-6753-4

At the start of Mullen's compelling second novel, set during the heyday of J. Edgar Hoover's war on crime in the 1930s, violent bank robbers Jason and Whit Fireson (aka the Firefly Brothers) wake up in an Indiana morgue, having miraculously survived bullet wounds that led the authorities to triumphantly announce their deaths. The pair escape and inform the third Fireson brother, Weston, and their mother, that they're alive. Meanwhile, the embarrassed local police report that ghouls stole Jason and Whit's corpses. This is but the first of a number of fantastic episodes in which the criminals cheat death, with no logical explanation. Despite the surrealism, Mullen (The Last Town on Earth ) makes the despair of the Great Depression palpable, as his antiheroes become folk icons to the downtrodden people of the Midwest resentful of a government that can't help them. Readers comfortable with significant narrative ambiguities will be engrossed. (Feb.)