Mary Doria Russell
Random House, May 3 2011, $26.00
In 1878 Dodge City, Kansas is a cow town where alcohol and hookers leave the young rustlers broke. Twenty something John Henry Holliday arrives from Atlanta to open up a dental practice. A Southern gentleman, he moved based on medical advice that a dry climate may abate somewhat the debilitating deadly impact of tuberculosis. Doc as he becomes known finds dental work not much of an income maker, but he proves talented at gambling. His live-in relationship with his intellectual equal Kate Harony is passionate as each loves music and the classics, but the hot-tempered Hungarian’s attempts to tame the Georgian has them brawling as much as loving.
When someone burns to death a mixed breed lad Johnny Sanders, lawmen Wyatt and Morgan Earp are outraged with the immoral murder. They vow to find the perpetrator and bring frontier justice to the culprit. Shockingly Doc feels morally obligated to assist the Earp brothers.
A few years before the famous gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone made them the models for future western frontier heroic stereotypes; Mary Doria Russell paints a vivid picture of the beginning of the friendship between Morgan the lawman and Doc the gambler. The characters make the historical biography story line fun to read as myth and fact blend into a deep portrait; though in many ways the key cast supersedes the murder plot. Readers will relish Doc as he and the Earp brothers become friends while seeking frontier justice for a half-breed.