I enjoy reading about iconic figures of history and heaven knows Doc Holliday fits that bill. I thank the publisher for sending me a copy of Doc by Maria Doria Russell at no charge for my honest review.
The year is 1878, peak of the Texas cattle trade. The place is Dodge City, Kansas, a saloon-filled cow town jammed with liquored-up adolescent cowboys and young Irish hookers. Violence is random and routine, but when the burned body of a mixed-blood boy named Johnnie Sanders is discovered, his death shocks a part-time policeman named Wyatt Earp. And it is a matter of strangely personal importance to Doc Holliday, the frail twenty-six-year-old dentist who has just opened an office at No. 24, Dodge House.
Beautifully educated, born to the life of a Southern gentleman, Dr. John Henry Holliday is given an awful choice at the age of twenty-two: die within months in Atlanta or leave everyone and everything he loves in the hope that the dry air and sunshine of the West will restore him to health. Young, scared, lonely, and sick, he arrives on the rawest edge of the Texas frontier just as an economic crash wrecks the dreams of a nation. Soon, with few alternatives open to him, Doc Holliday is gambling professionally; he is also living with Mária Katarina Harony, a high-strung Hungarian whore with dazzling turquoise eyes, who can quote Latin classics right back at him. Kate makes it her business to find Doc the high-stakes poker games that will support them both in high style. It is Kate who insists that the couple travel to Dodge City, because “that’s where the money is.”
And that is where the unlikely friendship of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp really begins—before Wyatt Earp is the prototype of the square-jawed, fearless lawman; before Doc Holliday is the quintessential frontier gambler; before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral links their names forever in American frontier mythology—when neither man wanted fame or deserved notoriety.
Authentic, moving, and witty, Mary Doria Russell’s fifth novel redefines these two towering figures of the American West and brings to life an extraordinary cast of historical characters, including Holliday’s unforgettable companion, Kate. First and last, however,is John Henry Holliday’s story, written with compassion, humor, and respect by one of our greatest contemporary storytellers.
About the Author:
Mary Doria Russell is the award-winning author of four previous bestsellers: The Sparrow, Children of God, A Thread of Grace, and Dreamers of the Day. Widely praised for her meticulous research, fine prose, and compelling narrative drive, Russell is uniquely suited to telling the story of the lawman Wyatt Earp and the dental surgeon John Henry Holliday. The daughter of Dick Doria, five-term sheriff of Dupage County, Illinois, Mary grew up with guns and cops but she also holds a doctorate in biological anthropology and taught gross anatomy at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dentistry before she left academe to write. You can find her at mariadoriarussell.net
I don’t know where to begin with this book. Everyone knows the name Doc Holliday. All have heard of the shootout at the OK Corral where Wyatt Earp, his brothers and Doc squared off in Tombstone, Arizona. Heck, I’ve BEEN to Tombstone and taken the tour. This book tells the tale of Doc Holliday but it doesn’t tell the tale of Tombstone. It wants to tell the reader the story of the man, not the legend. A legend that was created as all legends are out of part truth, part fear and part fantasy.
John Henry Holliday was born in Georgia prior to the Civil War. He was born with a cleft lip and palate that his uncle, a doctor was able to fix. His world was rocked by the war and then the death of his mother by tuberculosis. He went to live with his uncle who sponsored him to dental college in Philadelphia. He soon learned that he, too had contracted tuberculosis. It was felt that the dry air of the West would be better for his health so he went to Dallas to join the practice of a family friend but after being settled into the family the economy collapsed and he was soon out on his own.
The book tells his tale as he meets a prostitute named Kate – who will mostly stay with him ’til the end – and he moves to Dodge City and tries to work as a dentist but mostly survives as a gambler.If you are looking for a shoot – em – up tale of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday this is not the book for you. If you are looking for a peak into the life of one of the most iconic Western figures then you will be enthralled. I knew very little about Doc Holliday when I picked up this novel and in spite of my “one Western a year” reading habit (which I have already broken as this is my second) I cannot begin to tell you just how good this book was. The writing sucked me in from the very first page and I found myself almost inhabiting the character. To find such empathy for a figure with such a negative reputation and to have him redeemed – wow.
Ms. Russell has a magical way with words and descriptions that just brings scenes to life. Small details are included that enhance rather that bog down the narrative. All through the story you knew Doc Holliday was slowly dying from the tuberculosis and yet when he finally died it was overwhelmingly sad. I wish I had better writing skills so I could do this book justice. If you read only one Western a year make this the one.