Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Fistful of Westerns

A month or so ago, I started reading Westerns, going at it with all the weird obsessiveness that I normally display while pursuing a new interest. Like crime fiction, the Western genre is proving pretty diverse, and the level of quality has been all over the place… but I’m getting a pretty good sense of what I like, what I hate, and what I’m completely indifferent to.
Here’s some brief thoughts on my first seven forays into the Wild, Wooly West.

Valdez is Coming- Elmore Leonard
Yeah, I started with Leonard because I knew it would be great. How could it NOT be? Valdez is a lawman who gets zero respect, until enduring a violent public humiliation—that’s when he comes back, guns blazing, and shows them all what he’s made of. Lean and mean, hardboiled Western. I immediately ordered all his other Westerns on E-Bay, that’s how much I loved this one.

The Burning Hills-Louis L’Amour
Trace Jordan is running from some corrupt land-owners and lawmen, and trapped like a rat in the rolling desert canyons. But the baddies are about realize that when Jordan’s back is to the wall, that’s when he’s at his most dangerous… I was a good 60 pages into this one, thinking perhaps I’d made a mistake, because it wasn’t working for me. But then, out of nowhere, it all started to mesh and I found myself really enjoying it. I intend to read more L’Amour.

Border Guns-Max Brand
Laconic cowboy/gunman Weldon tries to protect a frail young woman from some dastardly types, but keeps getting distracted by a criminally-minded femme who lures him into bad behavior on the other side of the border. I can’t tell you much more, because I wasn’t paying attention for long stretches. Weldon, as a hero, is SO laconic as to be goofy, except when he’s suddenly bold and decisive out of nowhere. Can’t recommend this one, sorry…

The Hawthorne Legacy-James Reasoner
Judge Earl Stark hitches up in the town of Delgado to determine who inherits a thriving cattle ranch now that the owner has died under mysteriously violent circumstances. Two brothers seem willing to kill each other for the inheritance, calling in hired guns, and Stark has to stay alive long enough to solve the mystery. A fun, solid detective story masquerading as a Western, with great action and fast pacing. Loved this one.

The Widowmaker Book One: Invitation to a Hanging-Robert J. Randisi
Disgraced former lawman John Locke is hired to oversee the complicated arrangements of a hanging in a small Texas town, but the Mexican bandit slated to die has other plans— his gang awaits for the right moment to strike, all the while getting valuable intel from someone inside the town. The story builds steadily, with only occasional outburst of action, until the final, action-packed finale. Gripping story.

The Trailsman: Slave Hunter-Jon Sharpe
The Trailsman, Skye Fargo, is minding his own business when he’s forced to stop some KKK-types from hanging an old black man. Next thing you know, Fargo is neck deep in sexy women, for some reason, and I can’t tell you anything else because I gave up on this one after 50 pages or so. Apparently, Skye Fargo has never met a man who didn’t tremble in fear before him, and he’s never met a woman who didn’t want to immediately nail him. Goofy, cardboard cut-out characters and unlikely action scenes. Skip it.

And finally….

The Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles-Edward a. Grainger
A top-notch collection of short stories about two lawmen who never let the law interfere with their sense of justice. Full review here.

So that’s the first round. In another month or so, I should have round two ready to go. Reviews of stuff by Loren Estleman, Zane Grey, Elmore Kelton, Robert P. Parker, Bill Pronzini, and others.
Happy trails.


  1. Heath--I would also recommend DEATH OF A GUNFIGHTER by Lewis B Patten. A great story, well-written. As noir as it gets.

  2. Thanks for the tip, Mike, I'll look for it!