Writ in Blood
The Wild West gets a queer retelling in this inventive historical with a hint of fantasy. Three point-of-view characters based on real white men of the 1880s—Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Johnny Ringo—cross paths again and again on their way to the vivid setting of Tombstone, Arizona.
With robberies, arrests, skirmishes, card games, and sex stitching it all together, the plot follows the basic historical facts but isn’t the point of Bozza’s novel. Instead, she delves into her characters’ personalities and secret demons, offering creative insights into men who have passed into legend.
In Bozza’s hands, lawman Earp suffers from ennui and yearns to settle down with his wife and brothers. “I’m tired of arresting people for things I don’t care about,” he complains. Gambler Holliday is a Shakespeare-quoting bisexual whose touching bromance with Earp proves a bone of contention with common-law wife Kate Elder, a well-to-do prostitute. Outlaw Ringo, a hard-drinking loner and poet, has visions in which he couples with a handsome spirit he fears is the devil incarnate come to claim his soul for killing a man.
The three narratives wind slowly together toward the inevitable Gunfight at the O.K. Corral of 1881, which is over in what Earp calls “the grimmest half-minute” of his life. But the famous gunfight isn’t really the novel’s climax, with more than a fourth of the book remaining after the shootout. The pace doesn’t drag, though, because readers care about the men involved—especially tortured Ringo, whose grim end delivers a gut-wrench. What could have added to the novel is a keener sense of the women in the historical record; the author gives intriguing glimpses of their independence, but they come off flat compared to the fleshed-out men.