Using the best historical documentation available, Mary Doria Russell brings to life John Henry Holliday, the man behind the overblown myth of Wild West gunslinger Doc Holliday. From his childhood in antebellum Georgia and his dental education in the North through his diagnosis of tuberculosis and his move West, the reader learns about the real John - the talented dentist who above all things loved his mother. If you think you know Doc, you've got another thing coming!
Why I Read It
First off, it's by Mary Doria Russell. I would read a GROCERY LIST if that woman wrote it! Seriously, she is the author of some of the best books I've ever read: The Sparrow, Children of God, A Thread of Grace.
Second, it's Doc Holliday! Who doesn't love Doc Holliday?! Especially when played by Val Kilmer in Tombstone:
This book was not exactly what I expected but once I got past that I really and truly loved it. I thought I'd see Doc's adventures in Tombstone told from a new perspective; when the book ended prior to that I was a bit shocked. So just know up front that the OK Corral and the whole Tombstone story aren't included, and you'll be fine.
Otherwise, LOVED this book. As always, Russell's writing is gorgeous and she sucked me into the story from the very beginning. She doesn't just tell Doc's story in straight narrative format. Rather she adds in asides from time to time that touch on later events or the myths that grew up about them. Imagine someone telling you a story and occasionally interrupting himself to throw in a related bit of info - it's like that. I found it fascinating, and it didn't pull me out of the story in any way.
One of the things that always troubles me about historical fiction is this: how much of the story is true? Russell addresses that in the front of the book with an extensive character list and in the back with a detailed authors note (which I read before starting the actual book). The character list shows actual historical figures in regular print and any fictional characters in italics; very few characters are italicized. The author's note explains what liberties Russell took with the story and where she stayed with historical fact. Basically what she did was create a fictional character who knew Doc and the Earps and she killed that character off. The investigation into his death allows Russell to bring in real historical figures and events and show who Doc really was.
As I said, I really and truly loved this book. I recently expressed disappointment in another book dealing with the Earps and Doc Holliday - comparing that one to this book shows what a brilliant author like Russell can really do.
Oh, and I definitely heard Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday in my head as I read this book - what a treat!
Are there any authors who are to you like Mary Doria Russell is to me?