An elderly, but still tough Wyatt Earp goes East to confront a rising young gangster, Alphonse Capone, in this historical thriller by Culhane, pseudonym for Shamus winner Max Allan Collins (Road to Paradise, 2005, etc.).
The year is 1920, and since the West has been largely tamed, gunslingers and frontier lawmen have been forced to reinvent themselves. Enter Wyatt, a virile septuagenarian who has fallen on hard times. His odd jobs include working as a Los Angeles–based private investigator, and it’s in this guise that he’s sought out by Kate Elder, his old pal Doc Holliday’s widow. It turns out Doc and Kate had a son, but true to his breeding, that young man is in trouble. His New York speakeasy, and large supply of pre-Prohibition liquor, has attracted the attention of gangsters looking to peddle both their own hooch and strong-arm “protection.” Kate enlists Wyatt’s help, and so he heads East, running into Bat Masterson and Damon Runyon along the way before an epic card game settles everyone’s fate. Although some characters, including the self-destructive young Johnny Holliday, are invented, the majority of the book fits with historical reality. The real Capone was based in Brooklyn before heading to Chicago. And Earp did in fact work as a private eye in LA toward the end of his life. Given their backgrounds, it is believable that they’d come to blows, facing off with the weapons of their eras, Colt .45 versus Tommy gun. But while the clash of cultures makes for an interesting setup, Culhane is a little too invested in his history to make this work as a thriller. Wyatt, in particular, keeps dropping out of focus, through long-winded reminiscences.
Once the action starts up, these tough guys (and gals) are easy to follow, but the author could have been quicker on the draw.