Sunday, July 17, 2011

Doc by Mary Doria Russell

by Wendy

Oh sure, I'd heard of Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, the shoot-out at the OK Corral, and Tombstone, Arizona before reading Doc by Mary Doria Russell, but they were names and places that held no substance, like placeholders at a dinner party, not the guests themselves. Russell's gift in this work of historical fiction is a well-told story tethered in fact, but allowed to graze.

Rooted in what facts the author could unearth (she writes of her source material in the notes at the end of the book), the novel takes us on the detailed journey of Dr. John Henry (Doc) Holliday whose fate rests not with Russell, but with history. What makes Doc so engaging is Russell's portrayal not of "[A] cold and casual killer," as he was caricatured by the newspapermen of his day, but of a man who is at the mercy of tuberculosis; a man who is an accomplished pianist, dentist, and card shark; a man in love with a whore; a man who is by turns gracious and enraged; and a man whose relationship with the Earp brothers is not so infamous as what legend would have us believe.

Doc is cleverly divided into chapters using poker terms--poker and a game called faro are integral to the story. And just like in cards, the author lays out her cast of characters in a section called "The Players," where she differentiates the fictional ones by putting their names in italics. This section is a particularly helpful resource.

My only complaint is the novel leaves off in April, 1879, just as Doc is about to leave Dodge City, with the final chapter focusing on Kate, Doc's lover, and summarizing the rest of the main characters' lives. I only hope Russell considers expanding that short narrative into a full-fledged follow-up novel. Please, Mary, play one more hand.


  1. Welcome to the blogosphere, Wendy! I'm happy to see a good review from you of this book because I just bought it after seeing the author speak at my local bookstore a few weeks ago. Her first novel, The Sparrow, is among my all-time favorites. And you'll be happy to hear that she said her next book will continue the story, with a focus on the Earp brothers.

  2. I'm happy to know there's a sequel in the works. :)

  3. Welcome, Wendy! I too loved The Sparrow. And if you like the character of Doc, you might like the film Tombstone, which has one of my and my husband's favorite portrayals of him by Val Kilmer.

  4. Teresa,
    Thank you for your warm welcome. I'm so glad Russell is continuing the story. While I wait, I'll have to check out Sparrow.

    Girl Detective,
    Thank you for welcoming me to the world of blogging. You are the second person to recommend Tombstone; hopefully, the library has it.

  5. Welcome to the blogosphere!

    I'm not a Westerns girl at all, but I loved The Sparrow so I think I'll pop this on to my tbr list. The organisation of the book sounds v intriguing; it reminds me of the Norwegian novel The Solitaire Mystery, which is centered around a pack of cards. :)

  6. Yet another good review of this one...and I keep forgetting to grab a copy some place. Maybe this review will be my tipping point...thanks, Wendy, and welcome to the blog.

  7. Eva,
    I wouldn't have thought of reading a western either had it not been for Susan. The last one I read was Smoky the Cow Horse when I was a kid.

    Sam Sattler,
    You're welcome, and thanks for welcoming me to the blog. Bloggers are so polite and friendly!

  8. Misty 1020-913889:02 PM

    I would love to read this book. I like old westerns and I have seen the movie Tombstone and thought that Doc Holiday was one of the more interesting characters. I would like to know more about his relationship with the Earp brothers.


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