Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral

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From the bestselling, award-winning author of Doc, The Sparrow, and A Thread of Grace comes Epitaph, a richly detailed novel of the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral and the making of the mythology that surrounds it to this day

A deeply divided nation. Vicious politics. A shamelessly partisan media. A president scorned by half the populace. Smuggling and gang warfare along the Mexican border. Armed citizens...

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Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral

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From the bestselling, award-winning author of Doc, The Sparrow, and A Thread of Grace comes Epitaph, a richly detailed novel of the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral and the making of the mythology that surrounds it to this day

A deeply divided nation. Vicious politics. A shamelessly partisan media. A president scorned 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 three Earp brothers faced off against the Clantons and the McLaurys in Tombstone, Arizona. It should have been a simple misdemeanor arrest. But 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 frontier justice in the Old West.

Mary Doria Russell has unearthed the Homeric tragedy buried beneath 130 years of mythology, misrepresentation, and sheer indifference to fact. Epic and intimate, Epitaph 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 almost half a century and who carefully chipped away at the truth until she had crafted the heroic legend that would become the epitaph she believed her husband deserved.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. (Mar.)
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Epitaph peels back all the layers of the events leading up to and following America’s most storied gunfight, in a compelling, richly told narrative with complex characters, sharp context - and a number of parallels to today…a fully realized landscape with nuanced characters.”
Washington Post
“With vast amounts of research and a poetic prose line … Russell has crafted an epic tale … a stunning performance.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A magnificent sequel to Doc that represents a significant advance in her considerable narrative technique… Adroitly shifting points of view throughout, Russell assembles her cast in Tombstone, where her prodigious historical research illuminates the personalities and politics that propelled the combatants toward that corral.”
Seattle Times
Her writing is so vivid it seems she must have been there. … As Russell says, it matters where a tale begins and ends and “who tells the story and why … That makes all the difference.” Russell has made a big difference in bringing this story to life again.
NPR Books
Russell catalogs [the action] with power and beauty and a calculating eye until, as a reader, …understand something primal about the making of famous moments: That the causes are never as simple as you want, and outcomes never as clean or clear.”
Historical Novels Review
“Well-written and provocative, Doc is a book that will haunt you.”
Library Journal
★ 01/01/2015
In this follow-up to Doc, Russell is on a mission: she will leave no stone unturned, no seemingly tangential character undeveloped, no political maneuver unexamined in order to chip away at the pristine image of Wyatt Earp, Western Law Man. Unlike Earp's Vendetta Ride, though, her motivation is not vindictive; instead, she uses what must have been a staggering amount of research for something nobler. She wants to reveal truth where it has been obfuscated for more than a century. Exposing consumption's crippling of alleged sharpshooter Doc Holliday, the sterility and addiction suffered by the virtually unknown Earp wife (or rather, "wives"), and even the ineptitude of President Chester Arthur's administration, Russell shows how the gunfight at the OK Corral is not the end of a hero's tale but just 30 terrible seconds in a decades-long, nationwide struggle to evolve out of ignorance into enlightenment. VERDICT The multitude of points of view exemplifies the best of third-person omniscience, revealing innermost secrets, hopes, and fears. Readers of Lyndsay Faye's Gods of Gotham are sure to enjoy this novel, and fans of Westerns ready to branch out beyond Louis L'Amour and Max Brand might see it as a breath of fresh air.—Nicole R. Steeves, Chicago P.L.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-11-29
Russell follows up her fictional portrait of Doc Holliday (Doc, 2011) with this fictional deconstruction of the shootout at the O.K. Corral. While Doc Holliday's charisma remains unrivaled, he becomes a kind of Greek chorus when Russell shifts her focus to Wyatt Earp, the ambivalent, morally ambiguous not-quite-hero of this Western Iliad; as Doc says after a gunfight in which Wyatt's boot heel is shot off but he remains unharmed, "Achilles himself would have envied your luck." By 1880, when Doc shows up, the Earp brothers have settled in Tombstone with their "wives"—Russell's strongly drawn women are frontier survivors who take what security they can get whether officially legal or not. Also new in town is 18-year-old Josie Marcus, a nice Jewish runaway from San Francisco who's ended up the "wife" of Republican politician/businessman Johnny Behan. The Irish Yankee is competing with southern Democrat Wyatt Earp for sheriff. Their friendly political rivalry turns ugly once they begin competing for Josie as well. Meanwhile, big business interests behind the silver mines want to rid Tombstone of the local rustlers and petty criminals threatening the town's reputation and the capitalists' financial futures. The novel shifts effortlessly between intimate focus—for instance, Doc quietly teaching Josie a piano piece; actually, every scene with Doc or Josie is a bull's eye—and a wide angle that captures President James Garfield's assassination as well as the history of silver mining. The volatile mix of money, politics and personal vengeance intensifies in the months leading to the famous shootout and its less famous but brutal aftermath during which Wyatt loses his moral center. Eventually the novel becomes less violent but sadder and more realistic as Wyatt turns into a sullied victor on an odyssey toward Josie and pop-culture immortality. Despite all that has been written and filmed about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, Russell's pointedly anti-epic anti-romance is so epic and romantic that it whets the reader's appetite for more.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062198761
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/3/2015
  • Pages: 592
  • Sales rank: 46,329
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Doria Russell

Mary Doria Russell is the author of five previous books, The Sparrow, Children of God, A Thread of Grace, Dreamers of the Day, and Doc, all critically acclaimed commercial successes. Dr. Russell holds a Ph.D. in biological anthropology. She lives in Lyndhurst, Ohio.

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    1. Hometown:
      Cleveland, Ohio
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 19, 1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      Elmhurst, Illinois
    1. Education:
      B.A., The University of Illinois; M.A., Northeastern University; Ph.D., The University of Michigan
    2. Website:

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2015

    Excellent novel about Wyatt Earp

    Excellent book! Well researched and well written! Although it is a novel, it dispels a number of myths about Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the events that occurred in Tombstone Arizona.

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