Two events precipitated this blog. A few days ago, I wrote about three men who became legends during their own lifetimes. Last night, I watched the movie Sunset with James Garner as Wyatt Earp and Bruce Willis as Tom Mix, investigating murder in sunny California in Wyatt’s golden years. Black Hats is another fiction along those lines, reminiscent of that movie with its wry humor, succinct dialogue, and famous characters. In this case, however, the stars are Wyatt, his old friend Bat, and the memory of “Doc” Holliday, and of an incident that didn’t happen, but might have…

In 1921, Wyatt Earp is betting bored with his California life. It’s one thing to be a living legend, but it’s another to be a living legend married, settled down, and growing older. In the nick of time, he has a visitor from his good old, bad old life…Big Nose Kate, widow of his old friend, "Doc" Holliday, the Georgia dentist turned gunfighter. Seems Kate has a problem she hopes Wyatt can resolve for her—and it involves John Henry Holliday, Junior, her son and "Doc’s". After intending to become a dentist like his father, young Johnny wins a speakeasy in a card game as well as enough booze to fill it for a long, long time, and when he settles into being a nightclub owner, the whiskey-runners in New York aren’t too happy he isn’t buying theirs. Against his better judgment, and without telling his wife what he’s doing, Wyatt goes to New York City where he teams up with old crony Bat Masterson, who takes time off from his newspaper gig to help.

Johnny turns out to be a chip off the old block, the spitting image of his gambler father and equally fast with a gun or a knife. Soon the three are embroiled with nightclub personality Texas Guinan, and a ruthless up-and-coming young gangster named Al Capone. Johnny and Al have crossed on more than one occasion, the most recent leaving Capone with the knife slashes earning him the nickname “Scarface Al”, and now there’s revenge in the mix. Other well-knowns both famous and infamous stroll through the pages as Bat and Wyatt devise a daring plan to get Johnny out of his nightclub in one piece and into a safer life with his sweetheart, Daisy.

...and that's the way it happened, or, as it was said in Sunset..."give or take a lie or two."

This is a thoroughly enjoyable story, an audacious fiction with enough facts behind it to make it seem as if it could have happened. Bat and Wyatt, as well as the other real-life persons, are depicted the way we’ve been led to believe they would have talked and acted, and the many legends about them are woven into the story as well. It’s a fun romp through a time in American history when old legends were fading fast and new ones were rising, but this brief moment when the old and the new might have clashed is an adventure worth reading. If you like Westerns, if you like history in general—or tweaks on history--you’ll get a kick out of Black Hats. It might even make you want to see Sunset.

12 comments

  1. Nightingale // April 9, 2010 at 12:05 PM  

    Interesting review. Made me want to read the book. But I love stories about Wyatt and Doc Holliday.

  2. Autumn Jordon // April 9, 2010 at 12:08 PM  

    This sounds great. I loved the Divinci Code because it took facts that I was familiar with and wove them with fiction, making it all FICTION.

    Doc was my favorite character in any of the Tombstone stories. (If you have'nt visited Tombstone yet, put it on your travel lists. I've been twice and hope to return. The history preserved is worth the drive.) So I'm guessin' I will love this Johnny too. WINK

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Judy // April 9, 2010 at 1:46 PM  

    Love the concept of taking a piece of history and adding a "what if" to it. Good review, Toni!

  4. Mary Ricksen // April 9, 2010 at 2:05 PM  

    I gotta have it!!

  5. Mary Marvella // April 9, 2010 at 2:44 PM  

    Good blog, Toni! sounds very interesting.

  6. Scarlet Pumpernickel // April 9, 2010 at 2:55 PM  

    Now I've got to track down this book and read it! Toni, great review. You definitely made me want to read this one. Great job. Is this a new release or one that has been around a while? Is it an e-book or paper? Inquiring minds need to know so we can track it down. I really enjoy your post and tidbits of history, keep 'em coming.

  7. Scarlet Pumpernickel // April 9, 2010 at 2:55 PM  

    P.S. I've been in love with Doc Holliday forever!

  8. Toni V.S. // April 9, 2010 at 3:37 PM  

    It's a fairly new release which I found at the local library. The copy I had was paperback and it's listed on amazon.com.

  9. Dayana // April 10, 2010 at 8:55 AM  

    Toni, thanks for the awesome review. I can not tell you how many time I've seen Tombstone and Wyatt Earp movies. My husband loves them and would love to read this book as well. Great post!

    Dayana~

  10. Dayana // April 10, 2010 at 8:57 AM  

    Oh and from a writer's perspective this is a wonderful way to rewrite history into fiction. I love the concept of a bit of reality entwined with fictional twists. I enjoyed the DaVinci Code and sequels as well.

    Dayana~

  11. Mary Ricksen // April 10, 2010 at 2:41 PM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  12. Mary Ricksen // April 10, 2010 at 2:42 PM  

    Sorry, posted twice.