30 October 2018

The Love Letter of John Henry Holliday by Mary Fancher

shortlisted for book of the month



Western / Biographical fiction
1800s
American West

What would Doc Holliday have thought about his life as he lay dying in a hotel room in Colorado? What would he have had to say about his childhood, about the disease that had burdened and was now cutting short his life? About the famous gunfight in Tombstone and all the events leading up to it? What if these thoughts were contained in one last letter that he wrote to the only woman he ever loved, a woman who, at that very moment, was a Catholic nun in a southern convent?
The Love Letter of John Henry Holliday is this last letter.
Throughout, the reader sees him as Mattie knew him, a man brought alive as the complicated individual he surely was: intelligent and charismatic, violent and doomed. As he looks back on a life cut short by consumption, his words are often poetic, occasionally bitter, and frequently bleak, but it is all from his unique point of view. The letter is both an apologia and a penance. By the end, it is something more: a declaration of love.”

John Henry Holliday: better known as Doc Holliday of OK Corral and Wyatt Earp fame. Although published back in 2011 I came across this book again by chance (it was originally reviewed on another site where I was Managing Editor). Reading it again I was not disappointed. Mary Fancher’s writing is extremely elegant and the content very moving – do not think that this is a ‘Western’ as such, even though it is set in the location and period of one of the best known American ‘Western’ Events.

The novel bends around correspondence penned by the ‘Doc’ to his cousin Mattie, a nun, detailing the memoirs of his life which include the American Civil War and, of course, that famous gun fight at Tombstone, and ending just prior to his death in 1887. Apparently he did write letters to Mattie, although she later destroyed them, so much of the content here is fiction but based on immaculate research and a highly detailed insight into life in the American West, with the additional characters portrayed wonderfully and Holliday himself the essence of a most remarkable and interesting man, for all his foibles and often depressed state of mind.

Highly recommended as a fascinating book that beats all other westerns hands down.

© Helen Hollick



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1 comment:

  1. I'm probably the least likely person in the world to choose to watch or read a "Western" but this sounds so fascinating that I have added it to my TBR immediately! It will be a golden opportunity to learn about a period of history which is totally unfamiliar to me (and, I suspect, highly misrepresented in the movies I have seen).

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