Dusted Off: Doc by Mary Doria Russell

DocDoc

by Mary Doria Russell
Hardcover, 394 pg.
Random House, 2013
Read: June 9-13, 2012

I was almost 100 pages into this novel when the thought occurred to me how extraordinarily careful Russell was in the way she put this together. Not that I think most authors are sloppy or anything, but the effort to make sure every piece, every word, every event was placed juuuust so was very evident.

The result of all this care is a heckuva novel about the years and events leading up to Wyatt & Morgan Earp heading to Tombstone with their good buddy Doc Holliday. Warm, exciting, brutal–this novel reads like a fast-paced biography. Really, really well written–there are a couple of times that Russell overplays her hand and gets downright manipulative, and at least once she almost lost me while doing so.

I’m glad I stuck it out tho’, the climax was as heart-breaking as it was heart-warming, and the coda put a nice little bow on the whole thing. Well worth the time and effort.

—–

4 Stars

The Arrivals by Melissa Marr

The Arrivals
The Arrivals

by Melissa Marr
Hardcover, 274 pgs.
William Morrow, 2013

This is a very hard book to describe, which is a positive in this case — a portal fantasy involving sympathetic vampires, semi-domesticated dragons, outlaws and magic — in a Wild West-ish setting. On second thought, guess it’s not that tough to describe after all.

That may sound like Marr’s tried to throw too many things into the mix, and technically she made have — but she made it work well enough to get through almost 300 pages. Decades ago, a brother and sister (Kitty and Jack) from the Berkeley Area in the late 1800’s vanish and reappear in a new world, called The Wasteland. Some time later, they’re joined by others — including a Prohibition-era mobster, Edgar and then others from various periods in America. And other than one particular event in their background, there’s virtually nothing these people have in common.

Once they arrive in The Wasteland — each new person has to make a decision, to live with Jack and “The Arrivals” or to become a henchman to a pretty twisted proto-mafioso. Independence or some sort of servitude. The majority opt for the security and safety of the latter.

Oh, did I mention there are demon-summoning monks roaming around?

Jack and his people make ends meet doing odds and ends for the local governor, and other miscellaneous figures. Just trying to eke out a living, have a little left over for fun (read: whiskey).

It could be coincidence, it could be a matter of timing, or maybe it’s just the new presence of someone who showed up from 2013 Earth — but things that have been pretty much the same for decades start to change — and the Wasteland will never be the same.
quickly develop into well-rounded characters. This is probably Marr’s strength (not a knock on anything else she did here), as we see that the heroes aren’t always that heroic, most of the villains aren’t that bad either (most of them).

It’s a fun read, a quick read in an incredible world, with well-build and realized characters. Worth your time.

—–

3 Stars

Dusted Off: Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith

Holmes on the RangeHolmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You just have to love this concept. An illiterate cowboy in 1890’s Montana hears about Sherlock Holmes due to the republication of some of Watson’s accounts in American periodicals. He’s drawn by what Holmes does and sets about getting his hands on all of Watson’s reports he can. And then he makes his brother read them to him over and over and over so he can learn how to do what Holmes does. At some point he thinks he’s learned enough to start, and puts himself in a situation to put his skills to the test. And presto, you’ve got yourself a novel.

So much for the concept–how was the execution? Ehhh, not as good. It was dull, downright slow, filled with a bunch of cliched Western types. It was interesting enough to keep me reading, but man, did it get sloggy in parts. I’m glad I persevered, because the conclusion was satisfying (even if it’s pace was 200% of what preceded it) and the central characters were amusing.

These brothers offer a great take on Holmes/Watson, and I’m sure I’ll get to the sequels pretty soon. Hoping that now that the series has been set up, the next ones will pick up a little faster.

Dusted Off: Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith

sorry for the rushed nature of this one, but I wanted to get something up today and didn’t have time to polish it right.

You just have to love this concept. An illiterate cowboy in 1890’s Montana hears about Sherlock Holmes due to the republication of some of Watson’s accounts in American periodicals. He’s drawn by what Holmes does and sets about getting his hands on all of Watson’s reports he can. And then he makes his brother read them to him over and over and over so he can learn how to do what Holmes does. At some point he thinks he’s learned enough to start, and puts himself in a situation to put his skills to the test. And presto, you’ve got yourself a novel.

So much for the concept–how was the execution? Ehhh, not as good. It was dull, downright slow, filled with a bunch of cliched Western types. It was interesting enough to keep me reading, but man, did it get sloggy in parts. I’m glad I persevered, because the conclusion was satisfying (even if it’s pace was 200% of what preceded it) and the central characters were amusing.

These brothers offer a great take on Holmes/Watson, and I’m sure I’ll get to the sequels pretty soon. Hoping that now that the series has been set up, the next ones will pick up a little faster.

Dusted Off: Summer Reading: Appaloosa by Robert B. Parker

Trunk Music was clearly not going to get me to Midway airport, so I had to do something–wandered around some bookstore in the Denver Airport for awhile, seeing a few things I’d been meaning to buy and a few I added to that list–but all more money than I was willing to fork out at the time. Thankfully, I spied Robert B. Parker’s Appaloosa before plunking down full cover price for some hardcover I was mildly interested in. It got me to Midway, and even gave me a few minutes of pre-sleep reading while at GA.

This is Parker’s second western novel–he did a western film for TNT (I think), too. While I wouldn’t call his previous western, Gunman’s Rhapsody (a retelling of the Wyatt Earp/Doc Holiday story) a complete waste of time, I did spend too much time thinking “they got this better in Tombstone.” But Parker’s been hitting his marks better lately (particularly with Double Play), so I had hope for this.

This was certainly better than Gunman’s Rhapsody. And better than, say, Potshot or Perish Twice. This isn’t Parker at his best. It’s him at his comfortable mediocre.

Basically we have two guns for hire–the veteran gun, Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, his junior partner–men who travel from bad town to bad town, hiring on as peace officers, laying down a Draconian law, until the town gets cleaned up. Then they move on to the next town. Hmmm, sound like someone that Kurt Russell and Sam Elliott have played? They get hired on in Appaloosa to do just that.

So Cole and Everett drink a little, shoot a little, be tough, talk in obscure phrases, spend time with women of questionable repute…town gets cleaned up ‘cept for one man and his outfit…you can pretty well finish it all from there. There are a couple of twists to the story I hadn’t seen a million times–but I’m not a big western guy (tv, film or print), so I can’t say for certain how much of a cliché it is.

The most jarring thing about the story to me–and maybe the thing that keeps me from giving it a C+–is the dialogue. I have no problem with historical novels using contemporary language. I recall a handful of writing teachers telling us we had to make a choice when writing historical fiction–modern dialogue or vocab and diction proper to the time. Pick one and stick with it. Parker didn’t. He tended towards “Western” sentence structures (think Mal and Jayne in Firefly), with the occasional malapropism thrown in to make sure that Cole sounds uneducated. But he used contemporary jargon, contemporary attitudes. Parker’s given himself a reputation for being lax on the research front, and this confirms it for me.

I’ll give it a C- because it kept me occupied, didn’t feel entirely cheated out of my money, and I liked the horses–even if the metaphor there was heavy handed. (think Spenser coming out of the theater after seeing Empire Strikes Back)

Oh, just noticed on IMDB that Appaloosa’s going to be a movie directed by Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen’s attached. I could buy him as Cole. Honestly think it’d make a better movie than a book.