Author takes up a more believable story of Wyatt, Doc

“The Last Kind Words Saloon” by Larry McMurtry. Liveright, 2014. $24.95.

In his first book in five years, Larry McMurtry turns his considerable literary talents to the story of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. And, just as you’d expect, it’s not at all what you were expecting. Wyatt and Doc, in this telling, aren’t the shining heroes of recent years. They are lazy. They are flawed. They are almost terrifyingly human.

In sharp contrast to the winding tomes that make up the Lonesome Dove series, “The Last Kind Words Saloon” is a succinct story with as neat a beginning and ending as you are going to get in a story about humans.

Wyatt and Doc are knit into a story that’s comfortably zany, if there can be such a thing, including both a Turkish courtesan and a British lord. It feels familiar to fans of Augustus McCrae and W.F. Call, and both sort of make an appearance in the form of former Ranger Charlie Goodnight (who also occasionally pops up in the Lonesome Dove series).

The story trips along at a comfortable stroll from towns that may or may not be in Texas until its inevitable end in Tombstone’s O.K. Corral.

McMurtry’s telling of the legend of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday leaves much to the imagination of the reader. Events are inexact, sometimes hovering in a haze that’s not unlike a dusty desert afternoon.

Emotions, however, are at times startlingly sharp and human and real and unexpected.

Don’t look for Kurt Russell or Val Kilmer, though it’s tough not to see these characters with their faces, especially when Johnny Ringo arrives on the scene. You almost beg McMurtry to let Doc sneer, “I’m your huckleberry. That’s just my game.”

But this isn’t the movies. This Doc isn’t as biting and lethal, but he’s much more believable and human.