cover image The Last Kind Words Saloon

The Last Kind Words Saloon

Larry McMurtry. Norton/Liveright, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-87140-786-3

McMurtry of Lonesome Dove fame returns to fiction (after Custer) with this uneven portrayal of the frontier friendship between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. McMurtry is a master of colorful character development and snappy dialogue, both nicely showcased here as Wyatt and Doc meander through Texas and Colorado to Arizona, drinking, gambling, whoring, and debating whether or not they ought to shoot folks who annoy them. As these two lethal saddle pals wander the West, McMurtry introduces other real-life figures in side-plots—cattleman Charlie Goodnight; Quanah, the Comanche chief; Satanta, the Kiowa chief; and Buffalo Bill, whose adventures provide some action and humor, but add little to the Earp-Holliday story. McMurtry portrays Doc as a cuddly, funny drunk, but Wyatt is handled much differently. Here Wyatt is depicted as a moody, jealous wife beater, short-tempered and itching to pick a fight with anybody—especially Old Man Clanton and his cattle-thieving family in Tombstone, Ariz. When Wyatt stirs up a fight with the Clantons, an ambush, murder, and a challenge result in deadly powder burning at the O.K. Corral. This whole choppy story leads up to the predictable shoot-out, but McMurtry’s treatment of the Old West’s most famous gunfight is abrupt and unconvincing, taking just eight uninspired sentences to describe. This revisionist western plays loose with historical facts, and is a disappointing effort from a Pulitzer Prize–winning author. (May)