Gunman's Rhapsody

by Robert B. Parker

A novel of the Old West, imagined as only Robert B. Parker can.

"He already had a history by the time he first saw her...he was already a figure of the dime novels, and he already half-believed in the myth of the gunman that he was creating, even as it created him."

Robert B. Parker, the undisputed dean of American crime fiction, has long been credited with single-handedly resuscitating the private-eye genre. As the creator of the Spenser, Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall series, he has proven, again and again, that he is "Boston's peerless man of mystery" (Entertainment Weekly). Now he gives his fans the book he always longed to write-a brilliant and evocative novel set against the hardscrabble frontier life of the West, featuring Wyatt Earp.

It is the winter of 1879, and Dodge City has lost its snap. Thirty-one-year-old Wyatt Earp, assistant city marshal, loads his wife and all they own into a wagon, and goes with two of his brothers and their women to Tombstone, Arizona, land of the silver mines. There Earp becomes deputy sheriff, meeting up with the likes of Doc Holliday, Clay Allison, and Bat Masterson and encountering the love of his life, showgirl Josie Marcus. While navigating the constantly shifting alliances of a largely lawless territory, Earp finds himself embroiled in a simmering feud with Johnny Behan, which ultimately erupts in a deadly gunbattle on a dusty street.

Here is the master's take on the hallowed Western, as expertly crafted as the Spenser novels, and with the full weight of American history behind it.


"Robert B. Parker, the creator of the Spenser detective series, has taken the refreshing view that Earp was a man long before he was a symbol and has written Gunman's Rhaspody, a swift-moving, satisfying novel about Earp's controversial two years in Arizona. It's a novel that shows surprising fidelity to most of the known facts without letting them get in the way of a good story. Parker's strengths here, as in his crime novels, are plot and dialogue."
The New York Times Book Review

"It's those lead-slinging Earps—revisited and revitalized—strapping it on again in Parker's first western...the action bristles, the talk is excellent, and the characters hold you: a much better than OK ride."
Kirkus Reviews

"The gunman is Wyatt Earp. The rhapsody plays out in a rare Parker standalone novel, his best yet and his first western. Told in prose as cool and spare as Parker has ever laid down, the book details the time Wyatt and his brothers spend in Tombstone, culminating in the shootout at the O.K. Corral...As events move toward their necessary conclusion, the narrative takes on the inexorability of classic tragedy. This is a remarkably artful western, as tough and true as the slap of gunmetal against leather."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Parker...delivers a fresh take on the western marshal...Rhaspody's psychological portrait is a sure shot."

"Parker is a consummate writer of literary fiction: his joy in making cliches new alone is startling...Beyond this brilliant novel's exposure of territory politics in the Old West is a marvelous meditation on the transcendent connection between men and women."
Baltimore Sun

"The remarkable achievement of this novel is how it distills the natural dramatic quality of the actual Tombstone war down to its core essence...Like all good storytellers, Parker, who is considered the dean of American crime fiction...reshapes history for dramatic purpose...Parker's novel has a contemporary flavor, partly because it avoids self-conscious period vernacular and clichéd cowboy lingo, but also, and perhaps more to the point, because Parker understands the continuing relevance of Earp's story to our own preoccupation with revenge as justice. This is a Wyatt Earp for today's reader."
The Denver Post

"Parker's spare style is an easy fit for the story."
Book magazine

"Wyatt, like Parker, tries to hide a soaring romantic soul inside a tough-guy exterior that's not a disguise...Collectively speaking, the Spenser novels provide a social history of Boston in the past 30 years—a history Parker produced by looking at the world around him and writing down the things he noticed."
Boston Globe

"With Gunman's Rhaspody, Parker moves a long way from Boston, the home turf of private detective Spenser...the book rings true...Gunman's Rhaspody is both fast and steady."
Entertainment Weekly

"Parker...settles seamlessly into this classic western story of a fearless man and the woman who captures his eternal soul...The theme of hard, violent men in conflict over love and their own codes of honor is standard Parker fare, but no one does it better."

"Gunman's Rhaspody shows that Mr. Parker has the talent to become a superstar in a second genre."
Midwest Book Review

"This is a remarkably artful western, as tough and as true as the slap of gunmetal against leather."
Publishers Weekly

". . . no one does it better."

Buy the book

paperback | Putnam | 2001 | ISBN: 9780399147623


Chapter One

The road from the railhead in Benson ended with an uphill pull into Tombstone, and the horses were always lathered as they reached level ground and finished the trip on Allen Street in front of Wells Fargo. They were blowing hard when Bud Philpot tied the reins around the brake handle and climbed down to help the passengers out. Wyatt stayed up on the box holding the double-barreled 10-gauge shotgun that the company issued to all its messengers for the stage run. The in-town guards were issued twelves. When the money box was on the ground, Wyatt climbed down after it and followed as Philpot carried it into the office. Since he'd hired on as a shotgun messenger there had been no holdups, and when there had been holdups, before he took the job, they had always taken place on the road. Still, he saw little sense in being ready for no holdups, so he forced himself always to assume that one was about to happen.

Wyatt rode the empty stage with Philpot on around to Sandy Bob's barn on the corner of Third Street. Then he got down and walked a block down to Fremont, where he and his brothers had been building houses. There were four of the houses done, including the one he lived in with Mattie, and another one under way.

Virgil was there with Allie, sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee. Virgil was five years older and a little thicker than Wyatt, but they looked alike and people sometimes mistook Wyatt for his brother. He was always pleased when they did.

"Thank God," Mattie said when he came into the kitchen.

She had on a high-necked dress and her hair was tight around her square face. Her cheekbones smudged with a red flush made her look a little feverish. Probably whiskey. Whiskey made her lively. Laudanum made her languid.

"Safe at last," he said.

"Don't laugh at me, Wyatt," Mattie said. "You know about Victorio leaving the reservation."

"I heard," Wyatt said. "But I didn't see him on the road from Benson."

"Oh, leave her be, Wyatt, you know the Apaches are real," Allie said. "People are coming in from Dragoon."

"That so, Virg?"

Virgil nodded. He held his coffee cup in both hands, elbows on the table, so that he had only to dip his head forward to drink some.

"Everybody in Tombstone's worried. There's talk they'll attack the town," Mattie said.

She spoke in a kind of singsong, like a girl telling someone her lesson.

Wyatt broke the shotgun, took out the shells and put them in his pocket. He closed the shotgun and leaned its muzzle up against the door frame.

"How many Apaches are out?" Wyatt said.

"Clum says 'bout fifty."

"How many armed men we got in Tombstone?" Wyatt said.

Virgil dipped his head forward and drank some coffee.

"More 'n fifty," he said.

Wyatt nodded absently, looking past Mattie out the back window at the scrub growth and shaled gravel that spilled down the slope behind the house.

"Well, I'm glad you're home safe," Mattie said and got up and walked to him and put her arms around him. He stood quietly while she did this. And when she put her face up he kissed her without much emphasis.

"Go down the Oriental, Virg? Play a couple hands?"

Virgil nodded. He put down his cup, stood up, took his hat off the table and put it on his head. Allie frowned at Virgil.

"Maybe we'll just come along," Allie said. "Me and Mattie. See what the high life looks like."

"No," Virgil said.

"Why not?"

"No place for ladies."

"Ladies?" Allie said. "When did we get to be ladies?"

"Since you married us," Wyatt said and opened the door.

"I didn't marry no 'us,'" Allie said. "I married Virgil."

Virgil grinned at her and took hold of her nose and gave it a little wiggle.

"And a goddamned good thing you did," he said.

Then he went out the door after Wyatt.

They walked a block up to Allen Street. It was winter, and cold for the desert with the threat of snow making the air seem more like it had seemed in Illinois before a blizzard.

"Kinda hard on Mattie," Virgil said.

"I know."

"She's doing the best she can," Virgil said.

"So am I."

They walked along Allen Street. You could see the breath of the horses tied in front of the saloons. The early evening swirl of cowboys and miners moved hurriedly, wrapped in big coats, hunched against the cold.

"She ain't much," Virgil said.

"No," Wyatt said, "she ain't."

"Still, you took up with her."


Virgil put his left hand on Wyatt's shoulder for a moment, then they pushed into the Oriental where it was warm and bright and noisy.