Prolific novelist and pop historian McMurtry (Custer, 2012, etc.) offers another pleasing yarn for fans of the Old West, none of whom will hanker for a trip to the dentist after reading it.
It was a just a matter of time before McMurtry returned to Lonesome Dove territory and, having written about Calamity Jane, Billy the Kid and other such epic characters, turned to perhaps the most famous of all, Wyatt Earp and company. His newest oater brings Dove background character Charles Goodnight to the fore. Hard-living but oddly retiring, he and his dusty-chapped cowpokes are in their element in the country into which Earp and Doc Holliday have newly ridden, embarking on a cowcentric career that, by book’s end, will take them to destiny in Tombstone, where the inhabitants endure the job of trying to “meet the tower of dust created by nine hundred cattle as they passed through a town that was dusty anyway.” McMurtry’s tale is short, but he packs a terrific lot of action into his pages; in between gunfights and extractions, the constant bantering between Earp and Holliday echoes that of Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call (“Irascible, clean out your damn ears”). A nicely turned running joke has Holliday and Earp never quite certain of just where they are; as Wyatt says, “[t]his is Long Grass, which is nearly in Kansas, but not quite. It’s nearly in New Mexico, too, but not quite. Some have even suggested that we might be in Texas.” If they are, it’s the Texas of McMurtry’s imagination, a place full of tough outlaws and tougher Comanches and, refreshingly, a place where the women are just as strong as the men and just as involved in the story. A nice touch, too, is the subtle frame provided by an object that, like the clan that made it, staggered out of the High Plains and Tombstone into Hollywood, with plenty of dents and dings to show for it.
Not quite in the class of Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show, or other top-shelf McMurtry, but still a lot of fun.