Have to admit, I flinched at the first sentence, thinking I’d get slammed for too much tedious detail, but then…
Library Journal Starred Review
January 1, 2015
In this follow-up to Doc, Russell is on a mission: she will leave no stone unturned, no seemingly tangential character undeveloped, no political maneuver unexamined in order to chip away at the pristine image of Wyatt Earp, Western Law Man. Unlike Earp’s Vendetta Ride, though, her motivation is not vindictive; instead, she uses what must have been a staggering amount of research for something nobler. She wants to reveal truth where it has been obfuscated for more than a century. Exposing consumption’s crippling of alleged sharpshooter Doc Holliday, the sterility and addiction suffered by the virtually unknown Earp wife (or rather, ‘wives’), and even the ineptitude of President Chester Arthur’s administration, Russell shows how the gunfight at the OK Corral is not the end of a hero’s tale but just 30 terrible seconds in a decades-long, nationwide struggle to evolve out of ignorance into enlightenment. VERDICT: The multitude of points of view exemplifies the best of third-person omniscience, revealing innermost secrets, hopes, and fears. Readers of Lyndsay Faye’s Gods of Gotham are sure to enjoy this novel, and fans of Westerns ready to branch out beyond Louis L’Amour and Max Brand might see it as a breath of fresh air.
The next one is rather lovely as well, although the gunfight at the O.K. Corral was all too real, Johnny Behan was a Missouri Democrat, not an Irish Yankee, and the Earps were Republicans from the north. Churlish to quibble, I suppose.
Kirkus Reviews Starred Review
December 15, 2014
Russell follows up her fictional portrait of Doc Holliday (Doc, 2011) with this fictional deconstruction of the mythical shootout at the O.K. Corral. While Doc Holliday’s charisma remains unrivaled, he becomes a kind of Greek chorus when Russell shifts her focus to Wyatt Earp, the ambivalent, morally ambiguous not-quite-hero of this Western Iliad; as Doc says after a gunfight in which Wyatt’s boot heel is shot off but he remains unharmed, ‘Achilles himself would have envied your luck.’ By 1880, when Doc shows up, the Earp brothers have settled in Tombstone with their ‘wives’—Russell’s strongly drawn women are frontier survivors who take what security they can get whether officially legal or not. Also new in town is 18-year-old Josie Marcus, a nice Jewish runaway from San Francisco who’s ended up the ‘wife’ of Republican politician/businessman Johnny Behan. The Irish Yankee is competing with southern Democrat Wyatt Earp for sheriff. Their friendly political rivalry turns ugly once they begin competing for Josie as well. Meanwhile, big business interests behind the silver mines want to rid Tombstone of the local rustlers and petty criminals threatening the town’s reputation and the capitalists’ financial futures. The novel shifts effortlessly between intimate focus—for instance, Doc quietly teaching Josie a piano piece; actually, every scene with Doc or Josie is a bull’s eye—and a wide angle that captures President James Garfield’s assassination as well as the history of silver mining. The volatile mix of money, politics and personal vengeance intensifies in the months leading to the famous shootout and its less famous but brutal aftermath during which Wyatt loses his moral center. Eventually the novel becomes less violent but sadder and more realistic as Wyatt turns into a sullied victor on an odyssey toward Josie and pop-culture immortality. Despite all that has been written and filmed about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, Russell’s pointedly anti-epic anti-romance is so epic and romantic that it whets the reader’s appetite for more.
Epitaph will be out on March 3, but it’s available for preordering now at any good bookstore. If you’d like a signed first edition, order through my local independent bookstore, Mac’s Backs – Books on Coventry. There’s a Comments box where you can ask for a personal inscription.