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History at the O.K. Corral : BLOODY SEASON by Loren D. Estleman (Bantam: $15.95; 240 pp.)

January 24, 1988|David Dary | Dary is a professor of journalism at the University of Kansas and the author of numerous nonfiction books on the Old West. and

On the shelves of bookstores, this new novel may appear to be just another piece of Western fiction, but it isn't.

Detroit writer Loren Estleman's new work probes the infamous Oct. 26, 1881, gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Ariz., and his cast of characters are well-known--Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday on one side; Ike, Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton on the other.

Based on lengthy research, Estleman has not only brought together the known facts of what happened before, during, and after the gunfight, but he has probed the intricate reasons for the fight, and its effects on those who survived--including the residents of Tombstone.

While his account is based on solid historical scholarship, Estleman admits the dialogue is his own, but as he points out in his postscript, the dialogue is crafted after the fashion of each character's speech pattern as recorded elsewhere, and upon common sense.

The author's search for objectivity and truth, combined with his skill as a fine writer, have created a new vision of what happened in Tombstone on that October day 107 years ago, and he avoids the hackneyed style that clutters the pages of too many Westerns.

Although packaged as fiction, Estleman's historical novel probably comes closer to the truth than all of the nonfiction books and pamphlets yet published on the subject, and it's good reading. It gives new perspective to one of the few real gunfights in the 19th-Century American West where men on the edge of the law actually faced each other and fired their weapons.

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