This is a novel about the legendary Doc Holliday, known to history for his involvement in the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. But this book isn’t about that particular historical event; rather, it’s about who Doc Holliday really was, or at least who he might have been. It starts with John Henry Holliday’s childhood in Georgia: how he survived the aftermath of the Civil War and Sherman’s march; how he loved music and the finer things in life; and how he was profoundly affected by his mother’s death. It describes how he became ill with the disease that eventually killed him, and how his health forced him to seek a more arid climate out West. Finally, it depicts his life in Dodge City, Kansas, and the friendships and relationships he formed there, particularly with Kate Harony — an educated, passionate, and temperamental whore — and with a taciturn lawman named Wyatt Earp.
Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and this book is a perfect example of why. It brings the Wild West to life in an extremely vivid way, particularly the struggles of a frontier town in an era where the law offered very little protection to its citizens. I was fascinated by the political machinations at work in Dodge, where social issues like prostitution and Prohibition were intimately entangled with the local economy, and where political elections were often decided over a hand of cards. The characters in this book are as well-depicted as the setting: I felt like I truly got to know Doc and Wyatt, what made them tick, and how they managed to rise above their time while also being defined by it. They are both admirable characters, but Russell doesn’t shy away from describing their very real flaws. Overall, this book transported me to another time, and I absolutely loved it. Definitely one of my top reads of the year!