We can't get enough O.K. Corral mythology here in Tucson, so Mary Doria Russell fans were delighted when she unveiled Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral at the Tucson Festival of Books a few weeks ago. The long wait for the sequel to her best-selling novel, Doc, is finally over--and it was well worth waiting for.
Epitaph picks up where Doc left off, with Russell's troupe of historical players now settled in Tombstone. The narrative follows them through the tangled maze of events leading up to the gunfight, the subsequent vendetta ride and the final, wandering days and melancholy ends of the gunfight survivors. Russell is a tireless researcher and her historical fiction is a compelling blend of facts and well-informed speculation. She notes that, in addition to "absorbing nineteen linear feet of background books," for the novel, she also took a five-day, 58-mile vendetta ride of her own, on horseback, through the mountains outside of Tombstone, to better understand what her characters experienced, and which she ably conveys.
The novels stand on their own, but lovers of Tombstone lore will relish the back-story details in Doc, Russell's fictional retelling of the life of the iconic Doc Holliday, beginning with his early days in pre-Civil War Georgia and ending with his decision to shake the dust of Dodge City and head to Arizona. Doc's early life is marked by tragedy (the loss of his dear mother to tuberculosis) and his own danged bad luck (a promising dental career has to be jettisoned when he is diagnosed with the same disease). But, heading west for his health Doc quickly discovers that gambling pays better than dentistry and that a smart card player handy with a firearm can make his own luck. The cast of colorful characters appear on cue--the Earps, Bat Masterson and Kate Harony (Big Nose Kate) are just a few of the personalities strolling through Dodge, and each is rendered fully-developed and multi-dimensional in Russell's capable hands.
These remarkable novels fairly crackle with fascinating historical fact, evocative descriptions of the West when it was wild, and razor-sharp dialog. Double your pleasure and read them both!