“Wyatt in Wichita” by John Shirley, Skyhorse Publishing, 303 pages, $14.95
Wild West fiction has a long history and a wide range of styles, covering what was a relatively few years in American history. The stories of cowboys and Indians, bandits and lawmen, Indian wars and the entire taming of the West have enchanted many millions of readers around the world.
This book gives us a gritty realism into the early years of one of the most famous true life characters from that Western era, Wyatt Earp. It is fully fictionalized with made-up dialogue and actions, but is deeply rooted in valid research into his lifespan, especially the tragedy of his wife’s death that led to a time of despair and debauchery.
The novel is exciting, full of thrilling incidents and a good deal of speculation about Earp’s acquaintance with other Western giants, such as Wild Bill Hickok and a teenaged Billy the Kid. Did Earp really know them and have adventures with them? The times and geography would suggest some interaction.
Wyatt Earp was more of a rogue and hero than many in his day. He ranged freely over the western territories, doing his share of hell-raising as well as keeping the peace as a lawman, showing an easy dichotomy of lives that often characterized the era.
John Shirley, the author, has experimented with many forms of fiction as well as delving successfully into the entertainment business with screenplays and television shows. However, he has had a longtime interest in Wyatt Earp and made that man the subject of his first Western book. It is a good one.