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This is an appealing novel for those who would normally not read westerns.
Robert Parker has taken the well-known shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona and turned it into a well-developed, rich tale of family, honor, love, career, and the taming of the West. While many other writers have treated this material before, none have provided so much background to put the event into its proper perspective. The Earps, Doc Holliday, the Clantons, Bat Masterson, and many other Western legends come to life as real people you would recognize if you met them in a saloon. You will also learn a lot about the Earp women, both the wives and those they love. The story continues on to tell about what happened after the shoot-out.
Mr. Parker writes about these characters as though he were a contemporary, but without the exaggeration of a dime novel. In fact, the spare prose of the Spenser series here becomes stronger without the quips and irony that pervade those stories. The writing style will remind you of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, and that's intended to be a high compliment for his accomplishment here. The story also evokes many of the good qualities of The Virginian.
The story pivots around Wyatt Earp's fascination with a performer who draws his eye, Josie Marcus. Never expecting to see her again, he is startled to find her on the arm of aspiring lawman, Johnny Behan. Josie is a modern woman in many ways, drawn to the stage and Johnny for the excitement they seem to offer. She ends up being disappointed in both. For her, though, Wyatt is the real thing.
Their relationship is complicated by Josie having let Johnny move into a house her father has bought her in Tombstone, and Wyatt having lived with Mattie (Celia Ann Blaylock) for a number of years. The hurt feelings lead to a polarization in the politics in Tombstone and in Wyatt's relationship with his brother Virgil's wife, Allie.
The economic interests in the Tombstone area arrayed the ranchers against the rustlers, and the townsmen against those who wanted to raise a ruckus in town. The political interests split along North-South lines, reflecting the Civil War. Also, the cowboys tended to be southerners, and the Earps were northerners and townspeople.
The character of Wyatt Earp, as portrayed by Mr. Parker, will fascinate you. He is seen as a man of effortless, relaxed precision. He enjoys his card dealing as much as his target-shooting practice. Both a discomfort with alcohol and a preference for being in control have him constantly sipping cups of coffee to keep his vigilance sharp. He is above all a man of honor, which means sticking to his word and to his family. Many of the plot complications are a result of that honor, and you will enjoy thinking about the price that has to be paid.
Mr. Parker also does a remarkably good job of capturing the peril of being a law officer. You not only have to disarm the bad guys, some of them will come after you. If another law officer or citizen falsely accuses you, you can then have a posse chasing you. The Earps had plenty of experience with all of these problems.
My only complaint about the book relate to the Chronicle inserts that outline other events happening at the same time. There is too much of this in the book, and the significance of the events is mainly from the perspective of our time. So the effect of reading them is to take you away from the story in time and space. Unless you happen to enjoy the first ones you read, I suggest you skip over these for a more enjoyable read.
The moral choices involved in this book are interesting. How would you have decided between Mattie and Josie if you were Wyatt? If you chose Josie, how would you have handled the break-up? What promise would you have made to Josie about Johnny? If you were Josie, would you have released Wyatt from his promise?
Be a straight-shooter!