It’s probably not a great sign for a book if while reading it I keep thinking about the much better books out there about the same topic and plot that I would rather read, review, and recommend. So I will do a little of both here.
This book tells some of the final stories about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, which Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill floating around in the background. This is a book about the closing of the West, not in the Frederick Jackson Turner way, but in the way of the mythos of the West as told through its mythic heroes. Sounds great? Well, the idea certainly is, but the execution is not. This is a long short story, and perhaps had it been part of a longer novel or a collection, with each story given full shrift, we might agree. It feels like a last novel, which is a sad idea, especially given that McMurtry is still around, though around 85 now, and I still think there are just better novels out there.
So first, I think for a full, beautiful and panoramic retelling of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, you should check out Doc and Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell. For a great rendering of the closing of the West and the rise of the spectacle of the West, try Ron Hansen’s Desperadoes, and Richard Slotkin’s Gunfighter Nation. For a great novel that dissects the violence of the Western, Oakley Hall’s Warlock, and for a better Larry McMurtry novel that plays in the mythic heroes of the West, Streets of Laredo.