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Promised Land by Mark Warren

With great irony, the wake-up call to get offline came to me online - via The Guardian website. The story explained how much harder it is in this contemporary world to settle to a good book after years of spending too much time surfing online.

Thus reminded, I closed my laptop and settled down for a good long read. I was excited to have The Promised Land – the final instalment of Mark Warren’s excellent trilogy about Wyatt Earp - to read. Perhaps it was the slow-moving rot of the internet finally sapping my ability to concentrate. For whatever reason, this time it took me longer to re-enter the Wild West, as it is vividly recreated by Warren, than it had on the first occasion.

Previously, I had read Born to the Badge, part two of Warren’s odyssey, and had found myself unexpectedly swept along on that rich current of reimagination, as I eagerly turned the pages. This was a first for me as I did not expect it was possible for me to enjoy tales of the Wild West. I had not read any book written in the western genre before Warren’s landed unexpectedly on my desk. And the only time I recall watching a western at any time since Bonanza filled the black and white TV screens, was a spaghetti western – a spoof.

Since then, I had found myself a ready convert; thanks in a large part to the Mark Warren’s ability to recapture the essence of the Wild West at the pinnacle of its glory days. Now, place names like Tombstone and the OK Corral, which even the most ignorant reader (like me) had heard of, leapt from the pages.

Warren’s books are not so much westerns as well-researched and written historical novels. In focusing on Wyatt Earp – a real life character larger than Texas when it comes to the Wild West - Warren has found a marvellous vehicle for his history lesson.

The only trouble for me, on this occasion, was that it had been a long time between watering holes. It was many months since I reviewed the previous book, and I had forgotten some of the players and essential parts of the back story.

Warren helpfully provides maps of Tombstone and New Mexico in the front of his book, but I would also have found a timeline and character description useful. And I think these books are worth that investment by the publishers should it come to issuing reprints. Although I would urge readers to collect the trilogy, now this is complete, and digest them as fast as possible.

But while it took me longer than the first book to become immersed, once I was in, I did not want to leave. I was as drawn to read on to the bitter end as a moth is drawn to the flame. Not that I was looking forward to that. My imperfect recall of Wyatt’s ultimate fate had me expecting a different outcome. But I’ll let you find out what that fate was for yourself.

A good book offers the ultimate escape. It’s armchair travel to those wild places of the imagination. And if the best of books allows us to escape to new realms, then I would have to say that Warren’s books took me to places I had previously not expected to visit, but I’m really glad I went there.

I also appreciated the afterword which gives a potted history of the fate of some of the characters, although I confess to having become so enamoured of the central character, that I ended up doing some more research online.

Earp had put up a blistering fight; keeping me for days from its clutches; but I am sorry to say that the internet ultimately won, drawing me back again in to that dark vortex of page surfing to round out the rest of his compelling story.

Reviewer: Peta Stevallai

Book Three. $25.95. Also available as an e-book.


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