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Book Review - "The Southern Son: The Saga of Doc Holiday" (trilogy) by Victoria Wilcox

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews by clicking on the Books category on the right side bar.

Author Victoria Wilcox has written an epic trilogy, Southern Son: The Saga Of Doc Holliday, about this legendary western hero.  After committing eighteen years of her life she has peeled away the “legend” to inform readers about the true facts surrounding John Henry, also known as Doc Holliday.  The first book published last year, Inheritance, delves into his early years while the second novel, released this year, Gone West, chronicles his Western days up until his arrival in Arizona.  The mystery throughout this series has the reader wondering what will happen to Holliday as he attempts to find himself.

After reading these two novels anyone living in or traveling to the South should stop off at the Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House Museum, ( about a half hour out of Georgia.  It is there that they will discover the relationship between Melanie in Gone With The Wind and Doc Holliday from the OK Corral.  Mattie, Holliday’s cousin and love, is also the cousin of the author Margaret Mitchell.  Another cousin, Annie Fitzgerald, is the supposed model for Scarlett O’ Hara while her father, Gerald O’Hara is based on the real life Phillip Fitzgerald. Within this Museum are a lot of fascinating tidbits of these legendary figures. (  But before going to visit people should read these two fascinating books to understand Southern and Western society.

Early this month the Georgia Writers Association announced Wilcox as Author of the Year for the first book in the trilogy, Inheritance. Although each book can be considered stand alones it may be preferable to read them in order to understand the early events that contributed to Holliday’s persona.  Wilcox strongly suggests this since “the first book sets everything up.  It is an integral part of his story surrounding his Georgia roots.” This first volume explains his origins as a son of the Old South, a sensitive and hot-tempered young adult.  The author wrote this as a historical novel for dialogue purposes, but insists that the events are realistic and fact-based.  What influences John Henry is his mother’s death from consumption, his father’s coldness and too-sudden remarriage to a pretty neighbor; and John Henry’s touching yet hopeless love for his Catholic cousin, Mattie Holliday, a sweet and passionate young woman. But even more importantly, readers will be enlightened as to how historical events also shaped Holliday’s life from the Civil War to the Federal Government’s imposition of martial law in Georgia until the 1870s.

The next book, Gone West, finds Holliday starting over in Texas after engaging in a violent act in his home state of Georgia. He attempts to remake his career and win back the respect of his family and the love of the girl he left behind. But his life in the West doesn't turn out the way he has planned, and soon he's in trouble with the law again. This book has a number of different western settings from Dallas to Dodge City, from Denver to Trinidad and the Santa Fe Trail to Las Vegas, New Mexico. Wilcox traveled to these towns, attempting to “show his world as he sees it.  I wanted to highlight the differences between these western towns.”

It is in this book that Wilcox starts examining the Doc Holliday legend and breaks down fact from fiction.  Readers will be astonished to learn he became one of the first practitioners of what is now considered cosmetic dentistry, and he wasn’t the drunk and mass murderer history has painted him to be. Unlike Jesse James, Holliday either killed in self-defense or to save someone’s life. Wilcox describes him as “handsome, stubborn, selfish, and arrogant.  I discuss his long time affair with Kate Elder, a former Prostitute.  He was addicted to gambling and supported himself through card playing and dentistry.  He overcame his mother’s moral teachings, living in sin and hardly feeling any guilt. Holliday was not very troubled about being unfaithful to Mattie because, as I write in the book, ‘Kate had his body, Mattie still had his heart.’”

What makes Wilcox’s book fascinating is that readers are able to understand the origins of issues important today. She skillfully examines racial tensions of the time in Inheritance, without pre-judging the characters, as well as the agrarian society versus the commercial business society. With Gone West she explains how and why western towns had gun control since most required guns to be checked in a hotel or saloon upon arrival and were not allowed in the town itself. 

Although introduced in the first novel, Wyatt Earp is a prevalent figure in this second book.  Readers will learn Earp was not a famous lawman, Holliday was not a notorious outlaw, and that these men became legends only after their deaths. Wilcox also explores how these two figures, although different as day and night, became close. Holliday is seen as committing his whole heart and soul to the Earps.  Why? Wilcox explained to, “He was attracted to the Earps because he wanted a family life.  Wyatt was seen as a fatherly figure and Morgan as a brother.  He lowered himself to be in the Earp world. Holliday was a Southern gentleman with a Southern background while the Earps were just frontiersmen.”

Due out next year, book three, The Last Decision, will further explore Holliday’s relationship with Elder and the Earps.  It will discuss how Holliday believed that he and other Western pioneers brought law and government to this part of the country.  As with the previous two novels Wilcox will also examine an issue relevant today by showing how border security issues may have caused the “Shooting at the OK Corral.”

Anyone who likes to read historical fiction or westerns will enjoy this trilogy.  These novels are more than just the story of Doc Holliday but also explain how the Old South meets the new western frontier. Wilcox writes an intriguing story that brings the characters to life.