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June 24, 2011 / Leslie

Review: Doc

Doc: A Novel
by Mary Doria Russell
Read by: Mark Bramhall

Genre: Historical Fiction, Western
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publish Date: May 2011
Format: Audio CD | 16 Hours and 38 min
Rating: 5 of 5

When people familiar with the American Old West hear the name John Henry “Doc” Holliday, it brings to mind the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral or Wyatt Earp and his brothers. The gunfight that made Doc famous lasted only 30 seconds but that is what most people remember about him. In her new novel, Doc, Mary Doria Russell gives us another view drawing on historical facts, legends, research and her imagination in a fictionalized account of one year in the life of Doc Holliday. Most of the novel takes place during the time he lived in Dodge City, before he moved to Tombstone, Arizona where he played a part in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

The first few chapters of the book provide some background on the early life of John Holliday. He was born in Georgia to a wealthy family, was well educated and studied the sciences, literature, history and languages and graduated dental school at the age of 20. Shortly after he began his dental practice he contracted tuberculosis, a disease that was not curable and would torment him his entire life. He began one of several moves west in search of a drier, warmer climate which would be better for his health, first to Texas, where he met his girlfriend, Mary Katherine Horony, and then to Dodge City where he met the Earp brothers.

I rarely read westerns but I loved this book. I chose to read (listen) to it for several reasons: The author’s reputation and the main character, Doc Holliday, which I knew and liked from the movie Tombstone with Val Kilmer. The book is beautifully written. The old west and Doc Holliday vividly come to life as do all of the characters. I feel like I know Doc, I understand him, the writing is that powerful. One of the more interesting side characters was Doc’s girlfriend, who was also known as Katie Elder and who’s profession was a prostitute. She was a fascinating individual in her own right and had a complex relationship with Doc who considered her his intellectual equal.

Knowing little about the old west, I was captivated by this account of life in a frontier town. I could feel the lawlessness of the era in the saloon brawls, gambling, drinking and even a murder, which is eventually solved. The author even touches on the politics of the era as the prohibitionists attempted to get a hold on public office in an attempt to clean up the town. For a time Doc made his living as a professional gambler because he couldn’t make much money from his dental practice; most people couldn’t afford to pay for treatment. We also get some insight on dentistry in the late 1800’s which should make us all glad the field has advanced so much.

Yes, I was fascinated and couldn’t take the earbuds out. I was listening while gardening, cooking, shopping; for several days I was listening non-stop. The book was read by Mark Bramhall who did a nice job of performing the different accents with a voice that was easy to listen to. I always knew when I was hearing Doc with his southern drawl and he even made the Earp brothers sound different from each other.

Even if you’ve never heard of Doc Holliday or you’re not fond of westerns, I stlll suggest reading this book. It’s not a cowboy, gunslinger tale. It’s a wonderfully written portrait of John Henry Holliday with the old west and the people who lived there as a backdrop. Highly recommended.


I had the pleasure of attending an event last weekend where Mary Doria Russell was the keynote speaker. She spoke about her new book, Doc, and some of her earlier works. When asked about her inspiration to write Doc she admitted her love of the character and said she has watched Tombstone and My Darling Clementine many times and thought Val Kilmer made a better Doc Holliday than Victor Mature. That brought up the question of why didn’t she include the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Her answer was twofold. First, not including it left her room for a sequel, which received much laughter from the crowd, and second, she felt that part of John Henry Holliday’s life had already been written about many times and she wanted to explore an earlier, happier, period of his life.

She talked about her research for this novel and I was amazed to find out how much of it was based on fact. Mary is a wonderfully entertaining speaker; the hour flew past. If you ever have the opportunity to hear her speak, don’t pass it up.


I am giving away a new copy of this book to one of my readers as part of the Literary Blog Hop Giveaway beginning June 25 through 29th. The giveaway is open internationally to any country where The Book Depository will deliver.



Leave a Comment
  1. BookQuoter / Jun 24 2011 7:51 pm

    I would love to read this book!! Thanks for the chance.


  2. Carol Wolf / Jun 25 2011 7:56 am

    I have read several reviews of this book. Thanks for the opportunity.


  3. Jen - Devourer of Books / Jun 25 2011 8:18 am

    I loved this in print, I can imagine it made a fabulous audio with a good narrator.


  4. redladysreadingroom / Jun 25 2011 1:30 pm

    I just entered your giveaway. It sounds like this would be a great audiobook. Ms. Russell is a local author and I’ll have to check and see if there are any local readings.


  5. Judy H / Jun 26 2011 1:44 am

    Thank you for the giveaway.


  6. emmac6 / Jun 26 2011 7:32 pm

    My husband and I loved this book and that would be a perfect gift to offer. thanks for your giveaway. here is the link to my own review:


  7. Debbie Rodgers / Jun 27 2011 1:18 pm

    My dad liked to read westerns and I’ve tried a couple (in his memory) but have been disappointed. Thanks for pointing me to one that may be worthwhile!



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