History and legend fight it out in McMurtry's Old West yarn

Mon Mar 16, 2015 7:51am EDT
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By Angus MacSwan

LONDON (Reuters) - If your idea of Wyatt Earp is a strong, honorable lawman in the shape of Henry Fonda or Kevin Costner, you'd better think again.

In Larry McMurtry's new novel, "The Last Kind Words Saloon," Earp and his sidekick, the dentist-gambler Doc Holliday, are a lazy, mean-spirited, violence-prone pair. It's a portrait that's truer to history

"They weren't heroic. They were surly for the most part. They drank a lot, they were mostly drunk for all this time. They were easily ticked," McMurtry said.

"Wyatt hardly ever held a job. Usually his brothers got to be the sheriff and Wyatt spent his time whoring and drinking and hanging around," said McMurtry, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his beloved cattle-drive epic "Lonesome Dove".

Just published in Britain, McMurtry's latest is a short work set in the dying days of the Old West. It is chock full of gun-toting rowdies, taciturn ranchers, saloon girls, cruel Indians and even a British lord.

Some are historical figures, among them Irish journalist William Howard Russell and an aging Buffalo Bill, while others are imagined. It is laced with McMurtry's homespun humor.

In one scene, Doc and Earp try to practice their shooting but in a display of ineptitude, miss most of the bottles.

"I think of this as a rather light-hearted take on the ending of the West. I like to play around with it. I don't take it too seriously," he told Reuters, speaking in a gruff drawl down the telephone from Tucson, Arizona.   Continued...