I owe author Joe R. Lansdale a huge debt of thanks for turning me on to this book. I've been searching for a copy in good condition for quite awhile and finally found one. It's a pleasure to hold a real book in my hands for a while, but I'm learning another advantage to tablet readers. You can simply wipe away the dust.
I will say that Black Hats is well worth every eye-watering moment and probably a couple of doses of Sudafed as well. Ever imagine that Wyatt Earp, the hero of Tombstone and the winner of the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral would meet Al Capone?
In this tale, Earp's hired by Big Nose Kate, aka Katie Elder, the former companion of his old friend Doc Holliday. You see, Kate and Doc had a son who Doc never knew existed. When John Junior, Doc's full name was John Henry Holliday, learns his father was a dentist, he naturally follows in the old man's footsteps. Those immortal footsteps were in the field of dentistry until John Junior's beloved wife dies in childbed. Bereft, the man turns to alcohol and grief and becomes a true son of Doc Holliday. He's running a speakeasy now instead of working on people's teeth.
The problem is, Holliday's business venture runs afoul of organized crime, in particular Al Capone. This is New York City and Prohibition is just beginning. The "forties" or fortieth street, has speakeasies springing up like "mushrooms" according to Wyatt Earp, who's been hired to get Doc's son out of trouble.
Earp had no idea what a Tommy Gun was until he reached New York City and learned from Bat Masterson, who is now working as a sports editor. Can a man who shoots a six-shooter successfully go up against a gun which shoots 1,500 bullets per minute?
Every writer aspires to a few good lines. Culhane's got so many, I honestly cannot keep track. Just thought I'd share a few with you:
Referring to his current reading:
"This Hamlet feller is a talkative man. Wouldn't have lasted long in Kansas."
Referring to the relationship between Doc Holliday and Kate Elder:
"Never had two walked the line between love and hate as unsteadily as Doc and Kate."
Snap! That last one even rhymes.
Culhane's also done his homework. The story resounds with great detail of the factual events surrounding Earp as well as creating a realistic environment for the alternative history portion where Earp meets Capone.
If you enjoy tales of the Old West mixed with the roar of the Twenties, Black Hats is definitely a book for you. The story's well-written and deserves to come out of mothballs for a movie. It's going to be tough to find a good copy of the book. I suggest Powells Books in Portland, OR (www.powells.com) for your best chances at a good price.
NOTE: Patrick Culhane is the pseudonym for Max Allen Collins, who's probably most famous for The Road to Perdition, but also has more books and novelizations to his credit that I can name in this space.
Rebecca McFarland Kyle, July 2012