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Jimmy Hoffa: “I heard you paint houses.” Frank Sheeran: “I do my own carpentry work too.”

If I could make one recommendation to readers it would be to take this book at face value while reading it and then worry about the surrounding controversies only afterwards. Indeed, the best way to enjoy it is to approach it as a novel and not get too worked up about any of the kerfuffle.

As author Charles Brandt presents the tale, after representing Mr. Sheeran as a defense attorney the two became friendly and the latter felt comfortable relating not just the story of his life in organized crime, but actually confessing to a series of murders he committed, ultimately including the hit on Jimmy Hoffa. The life he tells of is compelling, brought up fighting in bars to win side bets his dad makes, sent to Europe in WWII where he spends a ridiculous number of days (over 400) in combat and becomes comfortable with killing, then on to Philadelphia where truck driving leads him into the Teamsters and up the organization ladder until he is one of the only non-Italians in a leadership position and the trusted confidante of Hoffa and of crime boss Russell Bufalino. His size, toughness, loyalty and ability to keep his mouth shut serve him well in his chosen milieu. But, throughout, he is plagued by Catholic guilt, which he seeks to escape by drinking. And at the end of his life he feels compelled to come clean, to seek redemption.

Criminality, alcoholism and a dying man trying to provide for his family are no recipe for a reliable narrator, but he is a fascinating one. Be warned, much of the book is literally just extended soliloquies-almost stream-of-consciousness--transcribed directly onto the page. Indeed, one of the weaknesses of the book is that Mr. Brandt intercedes too infrequently and too briefly. While he frequently mentions his skill and experience as an interrogator, he does not so much subject Sheeran to examination as serve as his mouthpiece. Ultimately, I thought his own contributions added so little that the tale might be better off without them.

As to the controversies, there are a number of links below to extended discussions of the veracity of Sheeran's stories. One of the problems is that devotees of the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance are no less devoted to their own versions than those who obsess about the JFK assassination. And those vested interests call into question their own impartiality. Accusations range from Sheeran not being involved in a couple specific high-profile murders--like Hoffa's--to him being a low-level soldier who was too big a drunk to ever be involved in anything important and never responsible for any murder. Panic over Martin Scorcese's movie adaptation of the book--The Irishman--and the way it would cement the Sheeran/Brandt version in peoples' minds unleashed even more attacks. as it happens, the original publisher of the book is local and a friend, so I'll let him answer the critics: -LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The Publisher of I Heard You Paint Houses Responds to “The Lies of the Irishman”: And the author of Slate’s story replies. (Chip Fleischer, AUG 16, 2019, Slate)

For my money, the book is enjoyable enough within its four corners without necessarily being the definitive story of the Hoffa killing.


Grade: (C+)


See also:

Charles Brandt Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Charles Brandt
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Charles Brandt (IMDB)
    -WIKIPEDIA: I Heard You Paint Houses
    -BOOK SITE: I Heard You Paint Houses (Penguin Random House)
    -BOOK SITE: I Heard You Paint Houses (Steerforth Press)
    -EXCERPT: Excerpt from I Heard You Paint Houses
    -WIKIPEDIA: Frank Sheeran
    -BIO: Frank Sheeran Biography (1920–2003) (
    -INTERVIEW: Charles Brandt, author 'I Heard You Paint Houses' (Click On detroit)
    -VIDEO: Charles Brandt? Bestselling Author-'I Heard You Paint Houses' Interview ('Eye On Sun Valley''s Vernon Scott-Host 'Talk of the Town', 1/19/17)
    -VIDEO: I Heard You Paint Houses author Charles Brandt talks about The Irishman & Frank Sheeran in Scranton (NEPA Scene, Nov 27, 2019)
    -ESSAY: The Lies of the Irishman: Netflix and Martin Scorsese are making their biggest bets ever on the confessions of a mafia “hitman.” The guy made it all up (BILL TONELLI, AUG 07, 2019, Slate)
    -LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The Publisher of I Heard You Paint Houses Responds to “The Lies of the Irishman”: And the author of Slate’s story replies. (Chip Fleischer, AUG 16, 2019, Slate)
    -PROFILE: Frank Sheeran in The Irishman: What’s the Real Story? (Jessica McBride, Dec 1, 2019, Heavy)
    -ESSAY: The True History Behind Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’: Many have suggested Frank Sheeran’s claims about the murder of Jimmy Hoffa are mere fantasy; the historical context of Scorsese’s epic is more nuanced (Angela Serratore, NOVEMBER 21, 2019, SMITHSONIANMAG.COM)
    -VIDEO: The Irishman Explained | The Reel Story (Reel Mob, Nov 24, 2019)
    -ARTICLE: Tapes Provide Rare Glimpse of Union?Crime Dealings (Alan Richman, Oct. 28, 1979, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: The true story behind The Irishman: As Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman arrives on Netflix, it’s a good time to explain who the real-life gangsters were (Michael Wilson, 11/29/19, Irish Times)
    -ESSAY: Mary Leddy, Frank Sheeran’s First Wife: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know (CC Strand, 11/27/19, Heavy)
    -Irene Sheeran, Frank Sheeran’s Wife: 5 Fast Facts (Paul Farrell, Nov 28, 2019, Heavy)
    -ESSAY: Peggy Sheeran, Frank’s Daughter: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know (Jessica McBride, Dec 1, 2019, Heavy)
    -VIDEO: Where is Hoffa? (11-13-2006)
    -VIDEO: Jimmy Hoffa: A closer look at the labor leader's life, work and disappearance (Click On Detroit | Local 4 | WDIV, Dec 4, 2019)
-REVIEW: of I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt (Bryan Burrough, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of I Heard You Paint Houses (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of I Heard You Paint Houses (Eric Witkowski)
    -REVIEW: of I Heard You Paint Houses (Frank Bognet, Standard Speaker)
    -REVIEW: of I Heard You Paint Houses (Spike, Lit Buzz)
    -REVIEW: of The Right to Remain Silent by Charles Brandt (Publishers Weekly)

Book-related and General Links:


    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Irishman (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Irishman (Metacritic)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Irishman (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Irishman (Screen Rant)
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Irishman
    -WIKIPEDIA: Martin Scorcese
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Martin Scorcese (IMDB)
    -INTERVIEW: Robert De Niro Defends ‘The Irishman’ Against Claims It’s Based on an Untrue Story: "We’re not saying we’re telling the actual story," De Niro tells IndieWire. "We’re telling our story." (Zack Sharf, Nov 13, 2019, IndieWire)
    -INTERVIEW: Martin Scorsese: The Irishman interview: The legendary director gets candid about the struggle to make his acclaimed new Netflix film, the studio system, and more (James Hibberd, October 24, 2019, Entertainment Weekly)
    -VIDEO: The Irishman" Official Documentary (Netflix, May 18, 2018)
    -ESSAY: Are the Claims in the New Film ‘The Irishman’ True? (Jack Goldsmith, November 26, 2019, Lawfare)
    -ESSAY: Jimmy Hoffa and ‘The Irishman’: A True Crime Story?: The imprimatur that Scorsese’s new movie, The Irishman, will stamp on Sheeran’s tale about the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa matters, for it falsely implicates a real person in the crime: my stepfather. (Jack Goldsmith, September 26, 2019, NY Review of Books)
    -ETEXT: THe Hoffex Memo (FBI, 1976)
    -VIDEO: HDSI - Who Killed Jimmy Hoffa? (History Detectives, PBS)
    -ESSAY: Is ‘The Irishman’ A True Story? 6 Reasons Why Experts Doubt Frank Sheeran’s Confession: He claimed to have killed labour union leader Jimmy Hoffa, but his story doesn't actually check out (Nick Pope, 6/01/20, Esquire)
    -ESSAY: 'The Irishman' is a fictionalized true crime story about the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, a mystery that still hasn't been solved (Rachel Askinasi Nov 30, 2020, Business Insider)
    -ESSAY: Who’s Who in The Irishman: A Character Guide (Nick Allen, 11/27/19, Vulture)
    -ESSAY: ‘The Irishman’ tells us who killed Jimmy Hoffa. A lawyer with a secret trove of documents says the movie got it wrong. (Manuel Roig-Franzia, Jan. 14th, 2020, Washington Post)
    -ESSAY: I Warned Robert De Niro 'The Irishman' Murder Story About Hoffa Is Pure Fiction (Dan Moldea, November 03, 2019,deadline Detroit)
    -ESSAY: The Irishman: The Inconvenient Truth About the Movie’s Central Confession: FBI agents, prosecutors, reporters, and criminals who knew Frank Sheeran have said Sheeran’s confession—on which Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is based—lacks credibility. (JULIE MILLER, NOVEMBER 1, 2019, Vanity Fair)
    -ESSAY: 'The Irishman' stirs controversy over its version of what happened to Jimmy Hoffa (Julie Hinds, 11/15/19, Detroit Free Press)
    -ESSAY: Who really killed Jimmy Hoffa? The violent history behind The Irishman’s ‘true story’ (Chris Harvey, 12/24/19, The Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: The "True Story" Behind The Irishman Lacks Credibility: I heard you (might not actually) paint houses. (CHLOE FOUSSIANES, FEB 7, 2020, Town & Country)
    -ESSAY: Who didn’t kill Jimmy Hoffa (Amanda Darrach, DECEMBER 13, 2019, Columbia Journalism Review)
    -ESSAY: The True Story Behind the Movie The Irishman (ALEJANDRO DE LA GARZA, OCTOBER 31, 2019, TIME)
    -ESSAY: 'The Irishman': 12 of the Film's Stars and Their Real-Life Inspirations (Katherine Schaffstall, 11/30/19, Hollywood Reporter)
    -ESSAY: The True Story of ‘The Irishman’: I Heard You Paint Tangled Tales: (Michael Wilson|Nov. 27th, 2019, NY Times)
-FILM REVIEW: The Irishman (Matt Zoller Seitz,
    -FILM REVIEW: The Irishman (Matt Goldberg, Collider)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Irishman (Anthony Lane, The New Yorker)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Irishman (Simon Sweeney, WPTS)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Irishman (Sammy Landino, Yale Daily News)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Irishman (Philip Martin, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Irishman (William Becker, The Seahawk)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Irishman (Nick Johnston, Vanya Land)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Irishman (Mark Kermode, The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Irishman (Michael Wood, London Review of Books)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Irishman (Justin Chang, NPR)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Irishman ()
    -FILM REVIEW: The Irishman ()
    -FILM REVIEW: The Irishman ()