Saturday, March 24, 2012

Doc by Mary Doria Russell (audio)

Book Description:
The year is 1878, peak of the Texas cattle trade. The place is Dodge City, Kansas, a saloon-filled cow town jammed with liquored-up adolescent cowboys and young Irish hookers. Violence is random and routine, but when the burned body of a mixed-blood boy named Johnnie Sanders is discovered, his death shocks a part-time policeman named Wyatt Earp. And it is a matter of strangely personal importance to Doc Holliday, the frail twenty-six-year-old dentist who has just opened an office at No. 24 Dodge House.

Quickie Review: 
On audio, an entertaining rendition of the life of John Henry "Doc" Holliday, concentrating on the years he lived in Dodge City, Kansas in the 1870's. As much as this novel centers on Doc himself, it also gives the background on all those around him. It tells the "mini" stories of several secondary characters who are friends and/or acquaintances of Doc. They each have their turn, their story and how they come to know Doc Holliday, whether friend or foe.  It's almost as if Doc is the sun and all the others are planets spinning, while revolving around him at the same time in Doc's solar system. Doc is the light that shines on them and puts them in the temporary spotlight.  The one thing they all have in common is they know Doc in some way. Most become friends, like the Earp brothers, some are not so friendly.  

John Henry Holliday is a southern Georgia gentleman who became a dentist at age 20. He is educated and genteel but contracts tuberculosis at the age of 21. He moves out west to Texas for health reasons but winds up in Dodge City, Kansas eventually.  There he takes up with Kate, a Hungarian frontier whore who had once been a promising young lady in the court of Maximilian of Mexico before the revolution that overthrew his reign.  She is greedy and mercenary and always wants to go where "the money is."  She and Doc have a tempestuous relationship, or about as tempestuous as it could get, considering Doc was dying of consumption most of the time.  While Doc practices dentistry during the day while sober, at night he's a professional gambler and drinks Bourbon in massive quantities.  The murder of Johnnie Sanders is front and center and is a major theme throughout the book.  Doc took a personal interest in Johnnie's death, as did several others.  Was Johnny murdered for money or did he die in a stable that burned down one night by accident?  Throughout the book this remains a mystery, but Wyatt Earp and Doc are very interested in finding out the truth about Johnnie's death and who was behind it.

I really loved this book and Doc himself. An entertaining snapshot of the Old West and of those people who knew Doc Holliday. By the way, this has virtually no accounting of the shootout at the O.K. Corral if that's what you're looking for.  It basically debunks all the exaggerated accounts of the "murderous gunslinger" Doc Holliday. He was hardly that. Soft spoken, a masterful pianist, a perfectionist as a dentist and a proud and honorable gentleman first and foremost.  Unfortunately he died an alcoholic, drinking to keep the coughing and hacking of his consumption at bay.  Great story and terrific on audio.  I miss the soft southern Georgian drawl of the narrator, Mark Bramhall as Doc.  He did a wonderful job with the various southern and foreign accents, particularly Doc and his constant coughing fits.  He brought the character of Kate and her Hungarian guttural accent to life, as well as the polished Austrian voice of Father Alexander von Angensperg, a Jesuit priest that befriends Doc after coming to Dodge for Johnnie Sanders funeral.

An engrossing tale of the Wild West with a murder mystery added in.  Plenty of memorable characters, many with familiar names.  Life behind the scenes of Dodge City and the people that lived there and what made them unique and special.  It's a little like you're living there too! Why John Henry "Doc" Holliday could have even been your dentist!  I highly recommend it.


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