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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Tombstone, Ariz., is famous for what happened there in 1881. That's the year a deadly gunfight broke out at the O.K. Corral; it was lawman Wyatt Earp and his brothers against a gang of rivals.

Earp has been portrayed by actors like Henry Fonda, Burt Lancaster and Val Kilmer. But this week, he's being revived by a different kind of artist. A new memoir by author Justin St. Germain weaves the story of the O.K. Corral into another, more personal tale. Julia Keller has our review.

JULIA KELLER, BYLINE: Tombstone is a big part of America's frontier mythology. Think dusty streets, white-hot sun. When I was a kid totally obsessed with cowboys, we took a family vacation there. I begged my parents until finally, they bought me a cowboy hat and a toy gun. I remembered that trip as I read "Son of a Gun," the gritty, haunting new memoir by Justin St. Germain.

Tombstone is a tourist town; most people are just passing through. But for St. Germain and his family, the place was like a barbed-wire fence, and they were like scraps of paper blown in that direction. They stuck. And it was on the outskirts of Tombstone that in 2001, the author's mother was murdered.

Debbie St. Germain was shot eight times by her fifth husband in the rundown trailer where the couple lived. St. Germain loved his mother, but knows she wasn't perfect. She was restless, erratic; moving dozens of times, trying scheme after scheme, always certain that the next one would work out. She had the best of intentions but made the worst kinds of mistakes.

One of those mistakes was named Ray. He was a moody, insecure ex-cop, and he took her life. "Son of a Gun" is a story of a quest, as the author searches for the details of his mother's murder. It's also a coming-of-age story; and it's a keenly observed meditation on those dubious legends of the Wild West, a place where men like Wyatt Earp strapped six guns to their hips and never ran away from trouble.

The book is also notable for what it's not. "Son of a Gun" is not really about guns, and it's not really a mystery. From the beginning, we know who killed her. With understated, luminous prose, St. Germain makes you feel the heat, taste the dust, and see the eternally hopeful shine in his mother's eyes. By the last page, you know her. And like her son, you will mourn her forever.

CORNISH: The book is "Son of a Gun," by Justin St. Germain. Our reviewer is Julia Keller. Her latest novel, "Bitter River," comes out in September.

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