Doc by Mary Doria Russell
Genre: Historical Fiction, Western
Publisher: Random House
Format: Hardcover and Ebook
Publication Date: 2011
From the publisher:
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.
I fear that this book was a victim of timing. I liked it but if I had read it at a time when both my reading mojo and attention span were in better condition I likely would have LOVED it. That said, I do plan to read the follow up book (Epitaph) but only when I’m sure I can be fully engaged with Russell’s writing. Her writing is wonderful and my reading of it in small snippets here and there did a disservice to the story.
While the book is primarily about Doc Holliday it is also about Wyatt Earp and their friendship. She includes background on the Earp brothers as well as Bat Masterson. This is all pre “Gunfight at the OK Corral (which is what the sequel, Epitaph is all about) but there is plenty of action.
Russell’s writing paints pictures as well as it tells stories and is just lovely to read. My favorite parts are the gently humorous tidbits here and there along the way.
I have friends from the South who will be nodding their heads about this quote
Johnnie had recognized the kinship as well. “I can always tell Southerners,” he told Doc at the barbershop. “Northerners’ll tell you where they’re goin’, not where they’re from. Southerners’re like Indians. They’ll ask who your relatives are until they find out, oh, my mother’s sister married your father’s uncle, so we’re cousins!”
The city council meeting/poker game made me smile.
By the end of the poker game, the new ordinances had been discussed and written up. Public drunkenness was prohibited. Why allow cowboys to wander the street when they could be corralled inside, drinking and gambling and whoring? Disorderly conduct—understood to mean prostitutes soliciting during daylight hours—was also banned. Everybody knew where to find the girls anyway. No riding on the sidewalks passed without quibble. No horses above the ground floor of any building took longer.
This about Bat Masterson sums up law enforcement of the day (Note Wyatt Earp had only read one law book).
In 1878, Bat was, after all, just a modestly educated twenty-four-year-old kid who’d won a county-wide popularity contest by three votes. He had read one fewer law book than Wyatt himself. And, in any case, it would be nearly a century before proper police procedure for handling crimes went much beyond (1) arrest a suspect within a few hours and (2) beat a confession out of the bastard.
I wish I had read this at a time when I could have completely immersed myself. The more I think about it though, the more I realize how much of it did manage to stick with me despite the less than ideal reading circumstances.