Doctor John Henry Holliday, by most accounts, was a tubercular, homicidal drunk and a close friend of Wyatt Earp. According to the legend, Holliday’s illness made him reckless with his life, descending from a respectable, educated southern gentleman to a mean tempered gambler who cared little for his ability to see beyond his next drink. These interpretations are pretty two dimensional, even by low bar set by popular fiction, so this book by Mary Doria Russell is a welcome departure. Russell’s portrait is a believable account of a doomed man who still clings to the hope of normality during his final years on the planet by the practice of dentistry. As a talented dental surgeon, this Doc Holliday is refined, intelligent, and drawn into alcohol primarily as a solace for his continuing coughing spells. The temporary relief gained by gulping whiskey becomes a habit, all the more debilitating due to his declining weight, and his desire to serve humanity by practicing dentistry is a frustration that drives him to gamble. This novel also has a sub plot involving a Dodge City death under mysterious circumstances, and a more plausible explanation for Doc’s friendship with Wyatt; he fixed the lawman’s teeth!

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