Roy & Lillie: A Love Story

Written by Loren D. Estleman
Review by Eileen Charbonneau

The admiration the infamous Judge Roy Bean had for Lillie Langtry, the “Professional Beauty” of late Victorian society, has been the stuff of biographies, plays, films and other novels. Spur-award winning author Estleman has a go here, treating their stories as parallel lives.

An early fabricator of his own legend, Judge Roy Bean’s “Only Law West of the Pecos” dispensed rough justice largely without mercy but with an eye for profit and a nose for notoriety. The self-styled ladies’ man could charm all, it seemed, save his wife, who bore him four children and left him a head scar via her frying pan. But one of his educated daughters helped her father correspond with the beauty who graced the walls of his drinking establishment for over twenty years.

Lillie Langtry became friends with admirers of her style and beauty – Oscar Wilde, Whistler, and Edward, Prince of Wales, who may or may not have fathered her daughter. Her beauty fading, she tried acting, endorsing products like soap and owning a racehorse, and was greatly successful. Finally keeping her promise to visit her correspondent Bean, her train stopped at Vinegarroon, Texas, now renamed Langtry in her honor, to find the Judge’s original saloon burned down and her admirer dead a few months before.

Estleman’s conjuring of lost letters are few, his omniscient voice sardonic and snide both east and far west of the Atlantic. And his love story is only one if the reader shares his belief that “theirs is the ideal love story, because it never had the chance to be anything else.”