Written by Mary Doria Russell
Review by Anne Barnhill

In her fifth novel, Mary Doria Russell creates an engaging saga of the American West, circa 1878, when Dr. John Henry Holliday, better known as “Doc,” travels from his home state, Georgia, to the infamous Dodge City, Kansas. A Southern aristocrat whose manners and gentlemanly conversation endear him to his sprawling family, Doc heads west to begin his career in dentistry, where the dry air and heat may improve his health. At twenty-one, Doc has contracted consumption, the very disease that killed his beloved mother.

As Doc establishes himself in his new home, he makes the acquaintance of several men whose names have become part of American folklore: the Earp brothers, Bat and Ed Masterson. Doc has learned card-playing from Sophie Walton, a mulatto child who lived on the family farm in Georgia.  Sophie’s instruction serves Doc well as he earns his keep gambling while waiting for his dental practice to grow.

Nothing can prepare the gentle Southerner for the deprivation he finds in the Wild West. Starved for gentile conversation and the collapsing culture he left behind, Doc takes up with Kate Horony, another lost soul from the aristocracy of Mexico. Kate speaks several languages, as does Doc, and she is familiar with Latin and Greek classics – an educated, spirited woman blowing across the range like tumbleweed. They are a match of sorts, each taking what is needed and calling it love.

Russell draws a bead on Doc Holliday and nails him – his Southern drawl, his innate kindness and the hard steel that lies beneath it – as she re-imagines his story. Well-written and provocative, Doc is a book that will haunt you as you imagine this refined, educated man dwindling to nothing more than a hollow cough and a bloodied handkerchief.