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Masterson

by Richard S. Wheeler

Book list In 1920, legendary gunfighter Bat Masterson is a successful New York newspaper columnist. His colleagues--Louella Parsons and Damon Runyon, among them--want to know the real story. Parsons' persistent questions prompt Bat to look back at his past, particularly the Dodge City years and his associations with Doc Holliday, the Earp brothers, and the notorious gunfight at the OK Corral. Bat and his wife, Emma, begin an odyssey across the U.S., and the former lawman tries to understand his role in the Wild West and explain it to the younger Emma. Wheeler is an award-winning historical-fiction author whose strength is the interweaving of a dozen engaging characters into a coherent vision of a large event, such as the San Francisco earthquake in Aftershocks [BKL Mr 1 99]. In this melancholy, very poignant novel, he shows his ability to focus on one character, producing a nuanced close-up instead of a detailed panorama. Readers will feel privileged to have accompanied Masterson on his pilgrimage. --Wes Lukowsky

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Kirkus Keeping Wheeler's printing history straight is not easy, since in a 12-month period he's published Dark Passage, Aftershocks, Sun Mountain (p. 487), Flint's Honor (p. 754) and now Masterson, for a grand total of sharply realistic novels that goes through the roof. This is all good news, however, since Wheeler is among the two or three top living writers of western historicals'if not the best, provided you don't count strong stylist Loren Estleman (see p. TKTK). Some of the works on Wheeler's crammed publishing schedule, we've been told, were written earlier but had to wait for print. In 1921, celebrated ex-lawman Bartholomew ``Bat'' Masterson is writing a column for New York's Morning Telegraph when he's interviewed by Louella Parsons and Damon Runyon about his notorious past. (Runyon later re-immortalizes him as Sky Masterson in the short story that became Guys and Dolls.) ``Have you killed twenty-six men? Have you been charged with first-degree murder four times? Did you shoot down seven cowboys and bring their heads in a sack back to Dodge City? Have you owned cathouses?'' Louella asks. His life, by now outrageously overblown by Ned Buntline for dime novels, so turns Bat's stomach that he decides to travel with his wife Emma to the old towns where the stories began and straighten out his own history. Strong on character, and as factual as possible, of course, as it moves smartly along, although wife Emma, about whom little is known, is largely a device for exposition.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Publishers Weekly Again depicting characters with frailties as well as heroic qualities, the prolific Wheeler's 25th novel (after Aftershocks) is a sprightly romp of revisionist western history. In 1919, legendary gunfighter Bat Masterson is a 64-year-old New York City sportswriter who suddenly becomes worried about the inglorious and mostly false reputation he has endured for decades. Certainly, he had hunted buffalo and fought Indians at the Battle of Adobe Walls; he'd been a gambler and a lawman. But everyone still believes he's an incorrigible womanizer who has run cathouses and gunned down dozens of men. He does admit to being quite the ladies' man, but bristles at the dime-novel exaggerations that depict him swaggering with 26 notches in his pistols and carrying the heads of seven outlaws around in a sack. Accompanied by his common-law wife, Emma, Bat decides to return to Dodge City, Tombstone and Denver to clear his name and to establish that he killed only one man, who richly deserved it, and that he is really a nice fellow if folks would just get to know him. This journey is a hoot as the old lawman finds that the public wants the legend, not the truth. When Bat visits his old friend Wyatt Earp in L.A., he meets actor William S. Hart and learns about why western films are so popular in Hollywood. Bat reminisces with Emma and a few old saddle pals, but finally gives up his quest when he realizes that folks want mythic, infamous heroes, and "you may as well sit back and enjoy the ride because there's no way to get off the train." This is classic Wheeler, a solid story about real people told with wit, compassion and a bit of whimsy. Author tour. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved