"His best yet...A remarkably artful Western, as tough and as true as the slap of gunmetal against leather." Publishers Weekly
Gunman's Rhapsodyby Robert B. Parker
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Spenser creator Robert B. Parker turns his eye to the Old West with his stirring rendition of the legendary exploits of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, the Clanton Gang, and the fateful gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Much of Robert B. Parker's fiction -- his recent Spenser novel, Potshot, is a notable example -- has straddled the boundary between two traditional forms: the private-eye novel and the Western. Parker's latest, the spare, evocative Gunman's Rhapsody, represents his first attempt at a pure, unadulterated Western, moving from Boston and environs to Tombstone, Arizona and focusing on one of Spenser's true spiritual forebears: Wyatt Earp.
Gunman's Rhapsody begins in 1879. Wyatt, whose exploits have already found their way into the dime novels of the period, has just arrived in Tombstone, accompanied by several of his brothers and his common-law wife, Mattie Blaylock. The Tombstone of this era is a semi-lawless boomtown located in the heart of the silver mine district. It also serves as a kind of crossroads, a meeting place for some of the iconic figures of the Old West, figures such as Johnny Ringo, Bat Masterson, Ike Clanton, Katie Elder, and the drunken, slightly demented gunfighter, Doc Holliday.
A single romantic encounter dominates this rambling, almost plotless narrative: Wyatt's discovery of the love of his life: beautiful showgirl Josie Marcus, who happens to be engaged to Johnny Behan, the shady, politically connected Sheriff of Tombstone. Wyatt's affair with Josie -- which takes on an obsessive, almost mythical dimension -- forms the central element in an interlocking series of personal rivalries and political enmities that will culminate in the gunfight at the OK Corral, and in its bloody, extended aftermath.
Parker's clean elegant style and essentially romantic sensibility prove perfectly suited to the peculiar material of this novel. Without a false note or wasted word, Parker recreates the ambiance of the West, bringing its saloons, jails, and gambling halls and its endless, wide-open vistas, to immediate, palpable life. He brings that same effortless authority to bear in describing the lives and motivations of violent, hard-edged men who live -- and sometimes die -- according to highly developed codes of personal behavior. The result is a fascinating historical digression that illuminates a piece of the American past while simultaneously illuminating the central concerns of Parker's large, constantly evolving body of work. (Bill Sheehan)
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).
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Read an Excerpt
The road from the railhead in Benson ended with an uphill pull into Tombstone, and the horses were always lathered as they reached level ground and finished the trip on Allen Street in front of Wells Fargo. They were blowing hard when Bud Philpot tied the reins around the brake handle and climbed down to help the passengers out. Wyatt stayed up on the box holding the double-barreled 10-gauge shotgun that the company issued to all its messengers for the stage run. The in-town guards were issued twelves. When the money box was on the ground, Wyatt climbed down after it and followed as Philpot carried it into the office. Since he'd hired on as a shotgun messenger there had been no holdups, and when there had been holdups, before he took the job, they had always taken place on the road. Still, he saw little sense in being ready for no holdups, so he forced himself always to assume that one was about to happen.
Wyatt rode the empty stage with Philpot on around to Sandy Bob's barn on the corner of Third Street. Then he got down and walked a block down to Fremont, where he and his brothers had been building houses. There were four of the houses done, including the one he lived in with Mattie, and another one under way.
Virgil was there with Allie, sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee. Virgil was five years older and a little thicker than Wyatt, but they looked alike and people sometimes mistook Wyatt for his brother. He was always pleased when they did.
"Thank God," Mattie said when he came into the kitchen.
She had on a high-necked dress and her hair was tight around her square face. Her cheekbones smudged with a red flush made her look a little feverish. Probably whiskey. Whiskey made her lively. Laudanum made her languid.
"Safe at last," he said.
"Don't laugh at me, Wyatt," Mattie said. "You know about Victorio leaving the reservation."
"I heard," Wyatt said. "But I didn't see him on the road from Benson."
"Oh, leave her be, Wyatt, you know the Apaches are real," Allie said. "People are coming in from Dragoon."
"That so, Virg?"
Virgil nodded. He held his coffee cup in both hands, elbows on the table, so that he had only to dip his head forward to drink some.
"Everybody in Tombstone's worried. There's talk they'll attack the town," Mattie said.
She spoke in a kind of singsong, like a girl telling someone her lesson.
Wyatt broke the shotgun, took out the shells and put them in his pocket. He closed the shotgun and leaned its muzzle up against the door frame.
"How many Apaches are out?" Wyatt said.
"Clum says 'bout fifty."
"How many armed men we got in Tombstone?" Wyatt said.
Virgil dipped his head forward and drank some coffee.
"More 'n fifty," he said.
Wyatt nodded absently, looking past Mattie out the back window at the scrub growth and shaled gravel that spilled down the slope behind the house.
"Well, I'm glad you're home safe," Mattie said and got up and walked to him and put her arms around him. He stood quietly while she did this. And when she put her face up he kissed her without much emphasis.
"Go down the Oriental, Virg? Play a couple hands?"
Virgil nodded. He put down his cup, stood up, took his hat off the table and put it on his head. Allie frowned at Virgil.
"Maybe we'll just come along," Allie said. "Me and Mattie. See what the high life looks like."
"No," Virgil said.
"No place for ladies."
"Ladies?" Allie said. "When did we get to be ladies?"
"Since you married us," Wyatt said and opened the door.
"I didn't marry no 'us,'" Allie said. "I married Virgil."
Virgil grinned at her and took hold of her nose and gave it a little wiggle.
"And a goddamned good thing you did," he said.
Then he went out the door after Wyatt.
They walked a block up to Allen Street. It was winter, and cold for the desert with the threat of snow making the air seem more like it had seemed in Illinois before a blizzard.
"Kinda hard on Mattie," Virgil said.
"She's doing the best she can," Virgil said.
"So am I."
They walked along Allen Street. You could see the breath of the horses tied in front of the saloons. The early evening swirl of cowboys and miners moved hurriedly, wrapped in big coats, hunched against the cold.
"She ain't much," Virgil said.
"No," Wyatt said, "she ain't."
"Still, you took up with her."
Virgil put his left hand on Wyatt's shoulder for a moment, then they pushed into the Oriental where it was warm and bright and noisy.
From Gunman's Rhapsody, by Robert B. Parker. (c) June 2001 , G. P. Putnam's Sons. Used by permission.
What People are Saying About This
"His best yet...A remarkably artful Western, as tough and as true as the slap of gunmetal against leather." Publishers Weekly
Meet the Author
Robert B. Parker was the author of more than fifty books. He died in January 2010.
- Date of Birth:
- September 17, 1932
- Date of Death:
- January 18, 2010
- Place of Birth:
- Springfield, Massachusetts
- Place of Death:
- Cambridge, Massachusetts
- B.A. in English, Colby College, 1954; M.A., Ph. D. in English, Boston University, 1957, 1971
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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there is no better writer of Western novels than Robert Parker. His dialog and descriptions of characters and places is wonderful and authentic. Historically, I learned more about the Earp Family and their relationships that I had never known before. Also learned about other characters like Ike Clanton. Obviously Parker did a great amount of research for this book. This is a great book for lovers of the old west. I recommend Parker's other westerns: Appallosa, and Resolution
Some have said that this book is a take off of the Tombstone & Wyatt Earp movie scripts. I beg to differ. Parker tells a story which has been told numerous time but uses his uncanny wit and character banter to make it his own. Though it is not an original, Parker makes this book his own. Parker is an incredible writer who writes books that are easy and enjoyable to read.
A slightly more laid back version of the Earp brothers story, with the focus on Wyatt. The action and actions in this book feel more realistic than I see in most books. Maybe it is just Parker's way of writing, but I found it engaging. I will be checking out more of his writings now.
I found this to be an interesting book but it lacked something. I found it very genuine but sometimes hard to follow. I liked it enough to finish in two days. This book did make me curious about the history of some of the western gun-men of that time.
After years of entertaining novels about contemporary crime, criminals and detectives, Robert B. Parker has taken his skills in a different direction. Taking the raw facts about Wyatt Earp, his family & associates, and historical events, he uses his literary gifts to flesh out these figures and create a plausible love story and action adventure. Call it a thinking man's western. Much like his Spenser novels, there is sufficient action, romance, and dry wit, without departing from historical facts. Parker's treatment of famous characters as folks not too different from the rest of us helps in understanding - and appreciating - their challenges and motivations. If you liked McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, you should give this a look.
While it was a good story and well written, I was somewhat disappointed in it's lack of originality. I felt as if I was reading the script from a Wyatt Earp movie. I would have expected Mr. Parker to have his own, 'original' character and not one about a subject (Wyatt Earp) that every other western writer has writen about. Throughout the entire book I couldn't shake the feeling that 'I've read this story before', but of course I hadn't.
Mr. Parker is able to take you into the old west. I normally don't read about that era but his book is fascinating. A deeper look at the well-known and widely mythologized Wyatt Earp.
EXCELLENT READ! CAN'T WAIT FOR MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS ONE FROM ROBERT B. WAS DISAPPOINTED AFTER POTSHOT BUT THIS IS A NEW IMPROVED PARKER AND I WOULD RANK THIS BOOK RIGHT UP THERE WITH THOSE OF LOUIS L'AMOUR. PLEASE...MORE!
This is an appealing novel for those who would normally not read westerns. Robert Parker has taken the well-known shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona and turned it into a well-developed, rich tale of family, honor, love, career, and the taming of the West. While many other writers have treated this material before, none have provided so much background to put the event into its proper perspective. The Earps, Doc Holliday, the Clantons, Bat Masterson, and many other Wetern legends come to life as real people you would recognize if you met them in a saloon. You will also learn a lot about the Earp women, both the wives and those they love. The story continues on to tell about what happened after the shoot-out. Mr. Parker writes about these characters as though he were a contemporary, but without the exaggeration of a dime novel. In fact, the spare prose of the Spenser series here becomes stronger without the quips and irony that pervade those stories. The writing style will remind you of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, and that's intended to be a high compliment for his accomplishment here. The story also evokes many of the good qualities of The Virginian. The story pivots around Wyatt Earp's fascination with a performer who draws his eye, Josie Marcus. Never expecting to see her again, he is startled to find her on the arm of aspiring lawman, Johnny Behan. Josie is a modern woman in many ways, drawn to the stage and Johnny for the excitement they seem to offer. She ends up being disappointed in both. For her, though, Wyatt is the real thing. Their relationship is complicated by Josie having let Johnny move into a house her father has bought her in Tombstone, and Wyatt having lived with Mattie (Celia Ann Blaylock) for a number of years. The hurt feelings lead to a polarization in the politics in Tombstone and in Wyatt's relationship with his brother Virgil's wife, Allie. The economic interests in the Tombstone area arrayed the ranchers against the rustlers, and the townsmen against those who wanted to raise a ruckus in town. The political interests split along North-South lines, reflecting the Civil War. Also, the cowboys tended to be southerners, and the Earps were northerners and townspeople. The character of Wyatt Earp, as portrayed by Mr. Parker, will fascinate you. He is seen as a man of effortless, relaxed precision. He enjoys his card dealing as much as his target-shooting practice. Both a discomfort with alcohol and a preference for being in control have him constantly sipping cups of coffee to keep his vigilance sharp. He is above all a man of honor, which means sticking to his word and to his family. Many of the plot complications are a result of that honor, and you will enjoy thinking about the price that has to be paid. Mr. Parker also does a remarkably good job of capturing the peril of being a law officer. You not only have to disarm the bad guys, some of them will come after you. If another law officer or citizen falsely accuses you, you can then have a posse chasing you. The Earps had plenty of experience with all of these problems. My only complaint about the book relate to the Chronicle inserts that outline other events happening at the same time. There is too much of this in the book, and the significance of the events is mainly from the perspective of our time. So the effect of reading them is to take you away from the story in time and space. Unless you happen to enjoy the first ones you read, I suggest you skip over these for a more enjoyable read. The moral choices involved in this book are interesting. How would you have decided between Mattie and Josie if you were Wyatt? If you chose Josie, how would you have handled the break-up? What promise would you have made to Josie about Johnny? If you were Josie, would you have released Wyatt from his promise? Be a straight-shooter! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irre