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Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
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A-DocAward-winning novelist Mary Doria Russell is the author of five novels, including The Sparrow (1996), which describes humankind's first contact with aliens, and A Thread of Grace ( 3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2005), an account of the Italian Resistance during World War II.

The Story: It is 1878, and John Henry "Doc" Holliday, a dapper young gentleman from Griffin, Georgia, has made a name for himself in the boisterous and volatile cow town of Dodge City, Kansas, as a skilled dentist and an even more skilled gambler. In the five years since his arrival, he has forged unlikely friendships with Kate Harony, an educated Hungarian noblewoman whose financial circumstances have reduced her to prostitution, and Wyatt Earp, an almost pathologically honorable lawman. When a mixed-race faro dealer dies in a suspicious barn fire, Holliday joins Earp in the investigation, which pits them both against the highest levels of frontier society.
Random House. 416 pages. $26. ISBN: 9781400068043

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Doc is an engaging bit of de-mythology, a vivid re-imagining of a more authentic, slightly less ‘wild' West than the one we've come to know through dime-store novels. ... To her well-rounded cast Russell adds period details that breathe life into the novel without ever smelling of the lamp." Bill Eichenberger

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"With the possible exception of Billy the Kid , Holliday has been the subject of perhaps more serious fiction than any other Old West gunfighter, and Russell may be the best writer to have attempted his story. ... She holds our interest not with gunfire but by involving us in the turbulent social life of the West's most mythical cow town, a place ‘Unjudged by God, who had surely forsaken this small, bright hell hole in the immense, human darkness that was west Kansas.'" Allen Barra

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Doc, Mary Doria Russell's new Western, is an engrossing portrait of a legend before he becomes a legend. Russell builds on aggressive research into the times and its more colorful characters to create a believable world that, while enriching those other, more familiar Wild West tales, stands solidly on its own." Chris Foran

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Intense, individual characters, so fully realized that readers can almost physically touch them, fill the novel's pages. ... Although this fictional development is well integrated and a pivot on which the story turns, it doesn't make the novel a murder mystery. ... Far more absorbing than this subplot is Doc's restrained but magnificent struggle to rise above the indignities of his disease and of life in Dodge." Margaret Donsbach

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Filled with fluid dialogue through which you can hear the characters' origins (everyone in Dodge City came from someplace else--the broken English of Chinese laundryman Jau Dong-Sing, the lilt of Irish vaudeville entertainer Eddie Foy, the delicate Southernisms of Holliday), Doc reads like a movie you can't wait to watch. ... Though Earp and his brothers are a vivid, constant presence in the novel, marching through in their plain-spoken way, it's Doc who takes it over." Moira Macdonald

Wall Street Journal 3 of 5 Stars
"Surely it takes some kind of artistic daring to reimagine the seductive bad boy of the Tombstone story as a saintly twerp. If only the rest of the book was as avant-garde. Alas, it's merely goofy. ... And yet I have to admit, I kind of liked it." Lee Sandlin

Critical Summary

Fans of Val Kilmer's 1993 portrayal of Doc Holliday in Tombstone will recognize scenes and dialogue from the movie in Doc. That, however, seemed to be most critics' only complaint. Russell has transformed her meticulous research into a vibrant and richly detailed world. From her opening sentences, Russell ensnares readers, commanding their continued attention with her deft characterizations and moody, atmospheric settings, "let[ting readers] breathe the dusty air of Dodge City" (Seattle Times). Meanwhile, Doc's rather conventional murder mystery retreats obligingly into the background. While the Wall Street Journal questioned Russell's revisionist portrayals, the rest praised Doc as a "luminous and elegant novel" (Oregonian) and a remarkable reimagining of one of the great legends of the Old West.