In the late 19th century, Tombstone, Arizona was a thriving silver-mining town in the American West, but it has become known to history only as the site of the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The story has been told many times and has become part of the mythology of the Wild West. But what was the fight really like for the men and women who lived it? What were its real causes? Who was really to blame? This novel, the follow-up to Doc, seeks to re-examine the legend and portray events as they really happened — or might have happened. The story begins more than a year before the gunfight, with local and national politics having a significant effect on daily life in Tombstone. Wyatt Earp wants to be sheriff someday, but although he is a man of integrity, he is too naive to realize that others are manipulating him. Meanwhile, the Clantons and the McLaurys are cattle thieves, pejoratively dubbed “cow boys,” who resent the intrusion of the lawmen onto their traditional way of life. These two conflicting ideologies are bound to clash, but in the fallout from the gunfight, the truth is obscured by many conflicting versions of the story, until at last it is covered by legend.
My summary of this book was a pain to write, and I definitely didn’t do it justice, but all you really need to know is that I loved this book! When I read Doc a couple years ago, I thought, “This is why I love historical fiction!” And the same is true of this follow-up novel. I love how Russell is able to take legendary historical figures and make them real, living, breathing people. I love how she pays as much attention to the women of Tombstone as to the men, from the Earp brothers’ common-law wives to the beguiling Josephine Sarah Marcus, whose love for Wyatt Earp would eventually lead to her distorting the events of the gunfight and building Wyatt into a legend. I also got a huge kick out of the fact that each chapter heading is a phrase from the Iliad, which emphasizes the epic, mythic nature of the stories surrounding the gunfight. Another fun fact is that “Epitaph” was the name of one of the local newspapers in Tombstone, so even the book’s title has many layers of meaning. My one complaint is that I would have liked a little bit more of Doc Holliday and his lover, Kate. But anyone who loved Doc should definitely read this novel too! Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction.