Masterson

Richard S. Wheeler, Author Forge $24.95 (253p) ISBN 978-0-312-87047-8
Again depicting characters with frailties as well as heroic qualities, the prolific Wheeler's 25th novel (after Aftershocks) is a sprightly romp of revisionist western history. In 1919, legendary gunfighter Bat Masterson is a 64-year-old New York City sportswriter who suddenly becomes worried about the inglorious and mostly false reputation he has endured for decades. Certainly, he had hunted buffalo and fought Indians at the Battle of Adobe Walls; he'd been a gambler and a lawman. But everyone still believes he's an incorrigible womanizer who has run cathouses and gunned down dozens of men. He does admit to being quite the ladies' man, but bristles at the dime-novel exaggerations that depict him swaggering with 26 notches in his pistols and carrying the heads of seven outlaws around in a sack. Accompanied by his common-law wife, Emma, Bat decides to return to Dodge City, Tombstone and Denver to clear his name and to establish that he killed only one man, who richly deserved it, and that he is really a nice fellow if folks would just get to know him. This journey is a hoot as the old lawman finds that the public wants the legend, not the truth. When Bat visits his old friend Wyatt Earp in L.A., he meets actor William S. Hart and learns about why western films are so popular in Hollywood. Bat reminisces with Emma and a few old saddle pals, but finally gives up his quest when he realizes that folks want mythic, infamous heroes, and ""you may as well sit back and enjoy the ride because there's no way to get off the train."" This is classic Wheeler, a solid story about real people told with wit, compassion and a bit of whimsy. Author tour. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/04/1999
Release date: 10/01/1999
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