Just finished reading Mary Doria Russell's novel, Doc. While a murder mystery runs through this novel about Doc Holliday, the main story focuses on John Henry Holliday's time spent in Dodge City and his growing friendship with the Earp brothers. Russell's research provides a detailed view of Dodge City as it was during the cattle drive era. Mid-Nineteenth century dental practices, Kansas politics, and lifestyles in general round out Russell's personality descriptions of Doc, Wyatt, Morgan, James, and, certainly, Kate. This is the first account I've read that told of Kate's violent and sometimes disruptive influence upon Doc's life. The effects of his disease are described more fully here, showing how miraculous this man's continued existence was and how his energy levels later in Tombstone defy the nature of his condition. At times, Russell lifts dialogue from the "Tombstone" script, but does so in a way that reflects the colloquial expressions drawn from Doc's Georgian culture and his imperious regard Dodge City society. Russell fills in the blanks of this story of friendship and loyalty, showing us a Doc Holliday who is refined, generous, and fair, even though he could be ruthless with those who abused their power. Wyatt Earp was portrayed as a surprisingly dull-witted and illiterate man, barely able, at that time at least, to retain respectable work. He didn't think very deeply about anything, shrugging off most things with a befuddled "I don't know." After all, he had his brothers to back his plays and this fraternal loyalty carried him through this early life.
Russell's portrayal of the women in this group, Kate Harony, Mattie Blaylock, and even James Earp's "wife," Bess, held a larger portion of influence in this tale of Old West society. Indeed, Russell describes many of the women involved in the Earp/Holliday pageant by including their upbringing, politics, and individual struggles to survive in Dodge City's rambunctious and sinful social climate. Russell did an excellent job of showing the reader how precarious survival was in this city and how each individual had to grasp his or her opportunities quickly and hold on tight.
"Doc" is entertaining and rich with intrigue. I thoroughly enjoyed this peek into the pre-Tombstone era of these people's lives.