Mary Doria Russell, the bestselling, award-winning author of The Sparrow, returns with Epitaph. An American Iliad, this richly detailed and meticulously researched historical novel continues the story she began in Doc, following Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday to Tombstone, Arizona, and to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
A deeply divided nation. Vicious politics. A shamelessly partisan media. A president loathed by half the populace. Smuggling and gang warfare along the Mexican border. Armed citizens willing to stand their ground and take law into their own hands. . . .
That was America in 1881.
All those forces came to bear on the afternoon of October 26 when Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers faced off against the Clantons and the McLaurys in Tombstone, Arizona. It should have been a simple misdemeanor arrest. Thirty seconds and thirty bullets later, three officers were wounded and three citizens lay dead in the dirt.
Wyatt Earp was the last man standing, the only one unscathed. The lies began before the smoke cleared, but the gunfight at the O.K. Corral would soon become central to American beliefs about the Old West.
Epitaph tells Wyatt’s real story, unearthing the Homeric tragedy buried under 130 years of mythology, misrepresentation, and sheer indifference to fact. Epic and intimate, this novel gives voice to the real men and women whose lives were changed forever by those fatal thirty seconds in Tombstone. At its heart is the woman behind the myth: Josephine Sarah Marcus, who loved Wyatt Earp for forty-nine years and who carefully chipped away at the truth until she had crafted the heroic legend that would become the epitaph her husband deserved.
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.