First two reviews of Epitaph!

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.

7 thoughts on “First two reviews of Epitaph!”

  1. This sounds like a wonderful read and I’m putting it on my list of books to devour. What can be better than a well-researched good telling of a fascinating story!

  2. Getting a starred review from ‘LJ’ is really encouraging. When I was ordering fiction and nonfiction books for public libraries, especially when I felt rushed (most days), I concentrated my time on all the starred reviews, looking for ‘winners.’ I suspect many librarians indulge the same habit.

    A month after reading DOC, I still find myself flashing back to things your characters did, or didn’t do. I’m really pleased you have another follow-up book about these characters. After all her self-destructive boozing, I’m thinking Doc’s bawdy girlfriend Kate isn’t part of this sequel (?).

    Also, as a retired librarian and occasional writer, would it be possible to get a review copy from your literary agent, so that I can write and publish a review in the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel? I’ve just finished reading all of your books so am raring to go. Thanks.
    David Brostrom
    Waukesha, WI

  3. I CAN’T WAIT!!! Just forwarded the link for Mac’s Backs to a friend with the suggestion she order a signed copy for my birthday.
    And if I sent you my treasured copy of “Threads of Grace,” would you sign it and return it? Or I could send it to Mac’s! Either way, I would pay the return postage.
    My favorite line from the two reviews: VERDICT: The multitude of points of view exemplifies the best of third-person omniscience, revealing innermost secrets, hopes, and fears.

  4. If the “Annotated Alice in Wonderland” sold well, I don’t see why the annotated “Epitaph” wouldn’t sell at least as well! That way you get to wow us yet again with the depth of scholarship you have brought to each of your books. Great reviews, and I’m looking forward to reading it in print as soon as my copy arrives!!!!

  5. Mary, posted your bit about Anthony Trollope in Epitaph to a couple of on-line Trollope reading groups. Several commented about the way you framed the passage of how Holiday found the unexpected library to be a beautiful oasis for book lovers in search for a perfect reading room. Also, one comment person reminded me that Trollope had an on-going war with the U.S. for allowing printers to publishing his books without bothering to gain copyright permission, thus stealing his work rather than paying for it. His comment was, “Do you think this was an authorized copy?” Knowing how well you researched your books, I said I would attempt to contact you. Of course the answer has nothing to do with anything other than interesting trivia for us Trollope fans. Incidentally, how did you select Trollope rather than some of the other Victorian canons?

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