The Last Kind Words Saloon: A Novel

Written by Larry McMurtry
Review by Jo Ann Butler

The 1881 shootout near the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona has fascinated the world for over a century. The Clanton and McLaury brothers accumulate a gang of stock thieves, smugglers, and stage coach robbers, and terrorize the area. Virgil Earp, the U.S. Marshal, deputizes his brothers Morgan, Warren, and Wyatt, and Doc Holliday to subdue them. They have a shootout on the street near the O.K. Corral and the good guys triumph. Movies and books galore dramatize that gunfight, and Wyatt Earp and other ‘50s TV westerns make Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday household names.

Wyatt Earp and Holliday were friends before they followed the silver mining boom to Tombstone. What sort of relationship did these tough, deadly men have? Larry McMurtry presents readers with The Last Kind Words Saloon, which takes place in the few years before the shootout. Doc pulls teeth, Wyatt wields a gun for hire; and both drink and gamble their days away. Cattle herding is risky work, a stint in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show ends as quickly as it began, and the pair drifts ever closer to Tombstone.

Parts of The Last Kind Words Saloon are sketchier than I would like, and the famed confrontation and shootout occupy only a few pages. However, when an artist like Larry McMurtry is at work, a few lines of dialogue are all it takes to paint vivid characters and events. The Last Kind Words Saloon abounds with both, and is recommended.