Wyatt in Wichita: A Historical Novel by John Shirley
Skyhorse Publishing, 2014
Available: Paperback, Kindle edition, audiobook download
Wyatt in Wichita is a novel I have been reading about for a long time. John Shirley, while known as both a horror and science fiction author, transcends genre in almost everything he writes, and I was intrigued to learn that he had been working on a historical novel set in the Wild West.
Shirley’s fascination with the legendary lawman Wyatt Earp was the seed for this novel, which is based in solid historical research. Focused on a lesser known aspect of Earp’s life, this novel is a fictionalized account of his search for the murderer of a girl from Wichita. Shirley uses the plot as a tool to explore Earp’s character. While legend sometimes paints a black-and-white picture of Earp as a hero, or villain, Shirley uses shades of grey. While the novel has plenty of action, it is, above all, a character study.
While a historical novel is a departure for the writer whose stories were once called “Lollipops of Pain”, Shirley delivers, with his intense view of the world expressed through this new setting and genre. His use of tiny details sets the tone effectively. While description can overwhelm a story and slow the pacing, Shirley’s writing remains fluid. All the elements of a successful Western are here: period accurate action, engulfing natural landscapes that jumped off the page, and characters that made me a little uncomfortable.
Authors writing outside of their traditional genres often have trouble getting their readers to follow them. Wyatt in Wichita is an excellent choice to get readers to step outside their genre and try something a little different. This should be in any library with a serious eye to western and historical fiction.
Reviewed by David Agranoff