Wyatt Earp

As written by Patrick Culhane (pseud. of Max Allan Collins), Robert B. Parker, Loren D. Estleman & Charles Knief

Brave, courageous and bold… and a P.I.?

WYATT EARP, of course, was a real person, a legendary lawman in the Old West. Dime novels, movies, TV and radio — we’re all more than familiar with the “story.” The O.K. Corral, Doc Holliday, the Clantons, etc. Yada yada yada…

But Earp didn’t make like your typical western hero and simply ride off into the sunset, à la My Darling Clementine. He dusted himself off and eventually became a private eye and skip tracer in 1920s Los Angeles. Really!

Its this little-known and largely unexamined period of Earp’s life that writer Patrick Culhane (actually our pal Max Allan Collins) dug up in his 2007 novel Black Hats, the first in a proposed sideline of historical mysteries, with his usual two-fisted approach to historical crime (one has only to check out his Nate Heller series to know Collins has a way with historical fiction). Improbable as it seems, Earp goes into action, traveling across country to New York City for a showdown with Al Capone in his pre-Chicago days, at the urging of Doc Holliday’s widow, Big Nosed Kate. Along the way, Earp even hooks up with another legendary lawman, his old pal Bat Masterson, to confront the soon-to-be-notorious gangster.

Preposterous? Far-fetched? Hogwash? As usual, thanks to his meticulous research and story-telling muscle, Collins brings it all home, making a convincing case. You will believe.

Hey, it coulda happened!

But Collins wasn’t the only P.I. writer to look at Earp and spot gold in them thar hills…

It may have all started with Loren Estelman, a writer as celebrated for his westerns and his epic private eye series featuring Amos Walker. In 1987, he wrote Bloody Season, his vivid novelization of the legendary gun battle at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881.

A few years later, Robert B. Parker took a potshot himself at Earp, in Gunman’s Rhapsody (2001), turning Earp’s life into a dry, spare, at times almost Spenserian meditation on honour, family, and love, as he follows him in the days up to the shooting at the O.K. Corral and the years following it.

In 2014, Estleman let fly again with Ragtime Cowboys, whierein Wyatt Earp hires two former Pinkerton agents, Charles A. Siringo and Dashiell Hammett, to track down a stolen horse in the early 1920s.

And in 2022, Charles Knief, creator of sea-faring P.I. John Caine, dipped into the Earp pool and came up with A Handful of Dust, reuniting Earp with his old pal Bat Masterton and imagining Earp’s “last gunfight,” after he’s jettisoned from the LAPD.

Fans historical cime fiction, westerns or just ripping good yarns, should stand up and take notice. There’s a new marshall in town.


Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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