Two brothers keep robbing banks after they’re dead in this turgid Depression-era novel from Mullen (The Last Town on Earth, 2006).
Jason Fireson and his younger brother Whit (aka the Firefly Brothers) come back to life in the police morgue in Points North, Ind. They gingerly examine their gunshot wounds—ugly, but they’ll heal, and they’re no longer bleeding. The Firesons will have two more resurrections before they finally die. What’s the point of these Twilight Zone episodes in an otherwise realistic novel? Near the end, the author offers an explanation rooted in family dynamics, but their real purpose is to vault the brothers into the exalted company of such legendary robbers as Dillinger. It doesn’t work. Jason and Whit remain run-of-the-mill lawbreakers, their glamour borrowed, their attributes secondhand, their resurrections attended by bathos; one accomplice, confronted by their revived corpses, says, “I need to go lie down.” They were raised, along with their law-abiding milquetoast of a brother, Weston, in the manufacturing town of Lincoln City, Ohio. Their highly ethical father owned a small grocery store and was outraged by Jason’s decision to work for bootleggers, a move that twice landed him in prison. Pop himself is jailed after allegedly murdering a business partner, another puzzle only solved at the end. The brothers’ final heists and three deaths occur during two weeks in August 1934. That’s a nice, compact time frame, sabotaged by frequent flashbacks, point-of-view switches and Mullen’s determination to cram in as much canned Depression background as he can. He regales us with breadlines, Hoovervilles, reverse evictions and those brutal marathon dances. There’s also a subplot involving the kidnapping of Jason’s moll, or rather super-moll, beautiful automotive heiress Darcy Windham. By the end we’re too exhausted to care who ratted out Jason, a betrayal that led to the shootings in Points North and the brothers’ hectic final days.
Fanciful trimmings can’t disguise Mullen’s failure to fully penetrate a vanished world.