Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday, Tombstone, the O.K. Corral--the icons are so firmly embedded in American history that we might know nothing more about them than their names. But in this spare, moody riff on the events leading to the 1881 shootout at the O.K. Corral--the signature battle defining the violence of the Old West--Robert B. Parker shades the black-and-white starkness with shifting tones of gray.
Parker moves beyond the Hollywood version of the shootout to explore the tangle of family loyalties, dirty politics, and passion that embroiled Wyatt Earp before and after his encounter with the Clanton gang. In Parker's version, the longstanding rivalry between the Earps and the cowboys may stem from cultural difference (the Clantons were ranchers who held Confederate sympathies during the Civil War; the Earps were townsfolk who had Union loyalties), and it may be exacerbated by alcohol, machismo, and fiery accusations from both sides. But the spark that leads to the final conflagration is simpler: Wyatt falls in love with Josie Marcus, Sheriff Johnny Behan's beautiful, self-assured companion.
Parker's Wyatt Earp is, like his detective hero Spenser, by turns arrogant and humble, and Earp's firm-jawed struggles with honor, family, and love will feel familiar to fans of that long-running series. But the author has abandoned the series' relatively intricate plotting and its touches of goofy humor. The novel is a curious amalgamation of inexorably linear narrative and moments of static contemplation. It drifts like a tumbleweed through Tombstone, leaving two- and three-month gaps, pausing briefly to dip into moments of conflict and moments of peace.
Gunman's Rhapsody is not a big, sprawling western. Hewing firmly to an understated minimalism, it seems at times to have sprung from a collaboration between Hemingway and a Quaker council. Who would have thought that such an unlikely combination could be so rewarding? --Kelly Flynn
From Publishers Weekly
The gunman is Wyatt Earp. The rhapsody plays out in a rare Parker stand-alone novel, his best yet and his first western. Told in prose as cool and spare as Parker has ever laid down, the book details the time Wyatt and his brothers spend in Tombstone, culminating in the shootout at the O.K. Corral. Parker's Wyatt won't surprise those familiar with the author's Boston PI, Spenser, and with Spenser's sidekick, Hawk. This Wyatt Earp carries traits of both Spenser's adherence to code, his word, himself, and Hawk's indifference to violence and death. But Wyatt is even more of a distillation than either Spenser or Hawk. He's the essence of the self-contained gunman; as he walks to the O.K., "he could feel the steady rhythm of his pulse, the easy flow of his blood." Events span years, but move quickly. Conflict arises when Wyatt falls hard for beautiful showgirl Josie Marcus and she for him, for she's the lover of local politico Johnny Behan. Johnny's jealousy leads to conspiracy, acts of cowardice and finally to the shoot-out. All the western legends associated with Wyatt play their parts the other Earp brothers, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Clay Allison, John Ringo and Parker etches each in granite. "Are you ready to die today?" Doc asks a man who's insulted him. Occasionally, Parker intersperses the drama with reports (letters, news bulletins, notices) that add historical context though not much more; their inclusion is questionable. What's not is how, as events move toward their necessary conclusion, the narrative takes on the inexorability of classic tragedy. This is a remarkably artful western, as tough and as true as the slap of gunmetal against leather. (June)Forecast: Parker's name on the cover and strong reviews could push this western onto bestseller lists, but it won't sell quite as well as the Spenser titles, with their vast built-in readership.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.