David Corbett's Latest Novel May Be His Best Yet


If you love mysteries as much as I do, maybe you could help me solve this one: why didn’t David Corbett’s latest novel make it on to every bestseller list out there?

Corbett, a former San Francisco private investigator, last year published The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday via Black Opal Press, a boutique shop in the Pacific Northwest. The novel went all but unnoticed. If I weren’t an inveterate Corbett fan, I would have missed it altogether.

And that would have been my loss because this is a magnificent yarn – gripping, brutal, and literary. I’d say it’s as satisfying a page-turner as The Devil’s Redhead, my favorite of his novels. It’s hard to compare the two as Doc Holliday is a richer literary experience than any of Corbett’s work I’ve read before.

Corbett burst on to the crime novel scene in 2002 with The Devil’s Redhead, a hard-boiled tour de force that showcased his motifs – a tough, intelligent heroine, a criminal hero with a code of honor,  the tortuous love between the two, and the backdrop of gang warfare. His follow-up a year later, Done for a Dime, was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

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I have both these books in the corner of my library reserved for books I reread repeatedly. Doc Holliday will soon join them.

His latest novel tells the story of attorney Lisa Balamaro, who harbors a secret love for her client, reformed art forger Tuck Mercer. Now an expert in Old West artifacts, Mercer gets hold of the love letters between Doc Holliday (famed gunslinger from the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral) and his sweetheart. The letters were thought to have been destroyed in the Nineteenth Century, and Mercer’s background as a forger creates suspicion about whether they’re genuine. When he tries to sell the letters to a collector in Tombstone, Arizona, Mercer learns the buyer is a gang leader with a vendetta against him.

The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday bears all the hallmarks of a great Corbett novel – a street-wise heroine, a painful love story, an ex-con who can take a beating. The author’s research is impeccable, especially in legal details. Corbett even reins in his greatest excess as a writer – gangland battles involving so many people that the reader can lose a sense of human tragedy.

What makes this novel special is a literary flourish that transcends the crime genre. Corbett has always shown a rare talent as a wordsmith. At its best, his prose is electrifying and boasts a hip swagger that accentuates the brashness of his characters.

Beyond its mesmerizing syntax, Doc Holliday is an homage to the heritage of the Old West – in letters, in painting, and in Corbett’s description of the culture and landscape of the area. The very fact the book’s subject, the letters themselves, came from an O.K. Corral vet shows that this novel at its heart is a celebration of the American frontier. Corbett rivals Wallace Stegner in infusing fiction with the culture of the American West.

Above all else, The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday is a thrilling read. The characters are bold and finely drawn and their actions drive a compelling narrative to its violent crescendo. There were some fine thrillers published in 2018, but none measures up to David Corbett’s latest.