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Epitaph

Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral by Maria Doria Russell (Ecco, $27.95, 581 pages)

“He upheld the law until he took it into his own hands and crushed it.”

It was all over in 30 seconds. Such was the case with the infamous 1881 gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. This novel both explains and dramatizes the events leading up to the death of three outlaws, killed by the Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday. It is also a detailed biography of Wyatt Earp, a man who was a paragon of the law before he became as much a criminal as those he hunted down and killed.

What Mary Doria Russell makes crystal clear in her account is that Wyatt Earp was far from the noble, perfect human being portrayed by actor Hugh O’Brien in the TV show The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955-1961). However, in fairness, Russell helps us understand how few could have withstood the pressures that Earp was under in his time – living in a once-prosperous town going under. Tombstone was a mining and gambling former boom town ruled by Cow Boys – real-life villains, who took pleasure in harassing good people. Today, the Cow Boys might be considered violent gang members or domestic terrorists.

Wyatt Earp eventually lost the right to wear a badge and white hat. This is the engaging, fascinating and sometimes depressing story of a flawed – deeply flawed, American legend.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on March 3, 2015.

Maria Doria Russell also wrote Doc: A Novel, a fictional biography of Doc Holliday.

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