cover image Epitaph


Mary Doria Russell. Ecco, $27.99 (592p) ISBN 978-0-06-219876-1

This isn't your great-grandfather's O.K. Corral. Russell (Doc) breathes new life into the well-worn western saga of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday's infamous shoot-out in the Arizona Territory town of Tombstone, largely by using as its entry point the story of Josie Marcus, who escapes her Jewish immigrant family in San Francisco to become a performer. She ends up in Tombstone as the lover of Johnny Behan, sheriff of Cochise County. This brings her to the attention of Wyatt Earp, a deputy marshal who is Behan's rival for political power. Josie loses interest in Behan and falls in love with Wyatt. All things eventually converge with the 30-second shootout at the O.K. Corral with a gang of cattle rustlers known as the Cow Boys. In the aftermath, Wyatt rides out on a quest for revenge. Although the gunfight itself plays almost as an anti-climax, Russell dramatizes how the bloody events of October 26, 1881, echo through western legend as Wyatt moves on to the Alaskan goldfields, and then to Hollywood in the 1920s to have his biography written. Drawing its title from the name of Tombstone's leading newspaper, this novel does indeed function as the last word for a western sense of justice and vengeance. This novel is a raucously Hogarthian depiction of how the West was truly lived. (Mar.)