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Book review: 'Epitaph' examines the gunfight at the O.K. Corral
"Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral" is by Mary Doria Russell. - photo by Kent Larson
"EPITAPH: A Novel of the O.K. Corral," by Mary Doria Russell, Ecco, $27.99, 581 pages (f)

Author Maria Doria Russell opens "Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral" with a great premise: Watch 30 seconds go by, then think about being held accountable, judged, researched, categorized and written about forever by what happened in those few seconds.

"Epitaph" is a historical novel that opens in 1865 with events leading up to the famous 30-second gunfight in 1881 between outlaws and lawmen at the O.K. Corral outside of Tombstone, Arizona. Russell also explores the aftermath of the gunfight and other events, including media interpretations.

Told in story format, the narrative hooks the reader quickly and switches viewpoints between Wyatt Earp, Josie Marcus Earp, John Henry "Doc" Holliday, the Earp brothers and many more, including several of the outlaws. Russell captures the motivations of each person very well.

Russell, who has a doctorate in biological anthropology, said in an email that her background led her to see that it was important to take into account the biological effects of head injuries to (outlaws) Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury within 24 hours of the gunfight.

Her details of Hollidays tuberculosis give better insight into his role during the Earp Vendetta Ride to avenge one of the deaths at the O.K. Corral.

Most authors and screenwriters take that as evidence that he was in relatively good health in 1882, but once lung tissue is gone, it's gone," she wrote. You can stop getting worse, but you never regain the lung capacity that was destroyed by the TB bacillus."

Russells attention to detail and realism are what make this account so different from others. Russell continues far past the gunfight to the last days of Wyatt Earp and his wife, Josie. This also gives insight into how the differing versions of Wyatt Earp and the incident at Tombstone, from producer and director William Harts efforts to the 1955 TV show "The Life and Times of Wyatt Earp," came about.

Its about how 30 seconds can truly affect the lives of so many people for many years to come.

The story holds nothing back. The descriptions of violence, while not graphically detailed, leave no misunderstandings. There are also several sexual situations, including prostitution and a sexual assault, that are factual and descriptive but not overly detailed. There are a few instances of minor profanity.

Russell has written a similar book about Holliday, titled "Doc," along with other novels.