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Gunman's Rhapsody Hardcover – June 4, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

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.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons; 1st edition (June 4, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399147624
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399147623
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.4 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #943,455 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) has long been acknowledged as the dean of American crime fiction. His novel featuring the wise-cracking, street-smart Boston private-eye Spenser earned him a devoted following and reams of critical acclaim, typified by R.W.B. Lewis' comment, "We are witnessing one of the great series in the history of the American detective story" (The New York Times Book Review). In June and October of 2005, Parker had national bestsellers with APPALOOSA and SCHOOL DAYS, and continued his winning streak in February of 2006 with his latest Jesse Stone novel, SEA CHANGE.

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Parker attended Colby College in Maine, served with the Army in Korea, and then completed a Ph.D. in English at Boston University. He married his wife Joan in 1956; they raised two sons, David and Daniel. Together the Parkers founded Pearl Productions, a Boston-based independent film company named after their short-haired pointer, Pearl, who has also been featured in many of Parker's novels.

Parker began writing his Spenser novels in 1971 while teaching at Boston's Northeastern University. Little did he suspect then that his witty, literate prose and psychological insights would make him keeper-of-the-flame of America's rich tradition of detective fiction. Parker's fictional Spenser inspired the ABC-TV series Spenser: For Hire. In February 2005, CBS-TV broadcast its highly-rated adaptation of the Jesse Stone novel Stone Cold, which featured Tom Selleck in the lead role as Parker's small-town police chief. The second CBS movie, Night Passage, also scored high ratings, and the third, Death in Paradise, aired on April 30, 2006.

Parker was named Grand Master of the 2002 Edgar Awards by the Mystery Writers of America, an honor shared with earlier masters such as Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen.

Parker died on January 19, 2010, at the age of 77.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 53 people found the following review helpful By John W. Myers on June 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Gunman's Rhapsody, I was pleased to find, is up to Parker's usual page-turning standards.

It's a fictional retelling of the Wyatt Earp saga "with the full weight of American history behind it," according to the publisher. If that be so, then Kevin Costner's recent film portrayal of Earp is closer to history than the earlier versions by Burt Lancaster and Henry Fonda.

And Parker's insights both deepen and widen the Earp reputation. Parker's pen brings to life a host of storied characters, including Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson, friends of Wyatt and the other Earp brothers, as well as foes such as Clay Allison, John Ringo and Curley Bill Brocius.

And Parker puts real flesh on the bones of the oft-told story of the feud between Sheriff Johnny Behan and Wyatt over showgirl Josie Marcus, which led to the famous shootout at the O.K. Corral.

Josie was the love of Wyatt's life, but in hindsight one almost wonders if all the blood spilled over that romance was worth it. If for none other, it's almost reason enough just for the joy of reading Parker's retelling of this cornerstone saga of the wild and wooly old American West.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is an appealing novel for those who would normally not read westerns.
Robert Parker has taken the well-known shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona and turned it into a well-developed, rich tale of family, honor, love, career, and the taming of the West. While many other writers have treated this material before, none have provided so much background to put the event into its proper perspective. The Earps, Doc Holliday, the Clantons, Bat Masterson, and many other Western legends come to life as real people you would recognize if you met them in a saloon. You will also learn a lot about the Earp women, both the wives and those they love. The story continues on to tell about what happened after the shoot-out.
Mr. Parker writes about these characters as though he were a contemporary, but without the exaggeration of a dime novel. In fact, the spare prose of the Spenser series here becomes stronger without the quips and irony that pervade those stories. The writing style will remind you of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, and that's intended to be a high compliment for his accomplishment here. The story also evokes many of the good qualities of The Virginian.
The story pivots around Wyatt Earp's fascination with a performer who draws his eye, Josie Marcus. Never expecting to see her again, he is startled to find her on the arm of aspiring lawman, Johnny Behan. Josie is a modern woman in many ways, drawn to the stage and Johnny for the excitement they seem to offer. She ends up being disappointed in both. For her, though, Wyatt is the real thing.
Their relationship is complicated by Josie having let Johnny move into a house her father has bought her in Tombstone, and Wyatt having lived with Mattie (Celia Ann Blaylock) for a number of years.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Newt Gingrich THE on October 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I will read anything Robert Parker writes but this was a delightful turn into a new genre. Parker has spent virtually his entire career writing mysteries about Boston and New England. In one break, years ago, he wrote Love and Glory, a heart wrenching novel about love, alcoholism, pain and endurance and one of the most moving novels I have ever read. Now he has moved in a totally different direction.
Gunman's Rhapsody is a western and a love story. The love story is a little stilted but still powerful. The western is about one of the genuine historic moments in American history, Wyatt Earp and the Gunfight at the OK Corral.
This is a practical no nonsense purposeful Earp who cautiously but determinedly gets his own way. It argues in essence that Wyatt fell for a woman who was living with Sheriff Behan and in stealing her he created a bitter enemy and the rest was history.
The tale is well told, interesting both as a look at the Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday and interesting as an imagining of what motivates men to kill and die in situations that on the surface seem irrational but under the surface go to the core of being human.
This is a different Robert Parker but he is still well worth reading.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on June 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In 1879 thirty-one-year-old Wyatt Earp, his spouse Mattie, several of his brothers, and their wives leave Dodge City to relocate in Tombstone. Three days pass in their new town when Wyatt sees traveling actress Josie Marcus for the first time. He cannot help but compare the vibrant, beautiful woman to his own wife. He realizes that Mattie, who was fun as an alcoholic whore, is a pathetic domestic. Wyatt did not desire Mattie long before his eyes feasted on Josie.

Josie is not only beyond Wyatt's reach, he sees her with Johnny Behan. Worse to come is when Behan introduces Josie to Wyatt as his fiancee. Johnny tells Wyatt that Pina County will probably split in two. He wants to become sheriff of the newly formed Cochise County when it is formed. He needs Wyatt to resign his current position as under sheriff so that he can accept it as a stepping stone when the split happens. Regardless of Wyatt's decision the woman and the job forces a dangerous feud to form.

Mixing history with his legendary story telling abilities, Robert B. Parker effortlessly switches genres to provide readers with a powerful tale of the old west. The exciting story line centers on Wyatt, turning him into more than just a dime store character. The plot allows the cast to appear real and the rivalry to develop without slowing down the plot for even a moment. GUNMAN'S RHAPSODY shows that Mr. Parker has the talent to become a superstar in a second genre.

Harriet Klausner
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