Of all the genres we collect at the library, it often feels like the Western is most in danger of fading away. In terms of cultural relevance, I’d venture to guess the genre peaked sometime mid-century, back when John Wayne and Clint Eastwood were simultaneously in the saddle (different saddles), and Gunsmoke was still wafting through the airwaves. This was also when Louis L’Amour was publishing a new book every few months and Larry McMurtry was just starting out. That is to say, it was a long time ago.
But the genre does persist. Louis L’Amour’s estate keeps cranking out re-releases at a fevered pace, even though he’s been dead for over thirty years. Most new Westerns being published today, however, are horses of a different color. New Westerns tend to eschew the old paperback formula (hero v. outlaw + tumbleweed), and instead borrow from other genres in order to broaden the story. Just like HBO’s Westworld is also a dystopian Sci-Fi, popular Western books today are almost always also something else. In fact, most are so something-else that they usually won’t be found in our Westerns section at all.
So the good news is that cowboys haven’t been lost to the sunset - although they have become more difficult to locate. Below is a list of brand new genre-bending Westerns to discover.
See That My Grave Is Kept Clean by Bart Paul (Thriller/Western)
“In clean, spare prose, Paul spins a plot of understated but still startling violence… a fine western thriller with a tender heart.” Booklist
“Readers will be transported by Paul’s easygoing prose...Paul delivers a Western-themed thriller that can easily be read as a stand-alone…” Library Journal
Cold Country by Russell Rowland (Mystery/Western)
“This story reminds readers that people everywhere hide unpleasantness, distrust newcomers, and are quick to cast doubt… Fans of regional mysteries will find this delightful.” Library Journal
“The murder mystery propels the story, but Rowland’s clear-eyed look at mid-20th-century rural life provides a staisfying portrait…” Publishers Weekly
Ride the High Lonesome by Rosanne Bittner (Romance/Western)
“Touching, passionate romance between two wounded souls amid the beautiful landscapes of the West make this page-turner sure to please fans of western historicals.” Publisher Weekly
“This slow-burn romance is true to Bittner’s signature focus on the emotional connection between the hero and heroine.” Booklist
Wyoming by JP Gritton (Literary Fiction/Western)
“An affecting, richly drawn, darkly humorous novel about grifting siblings, one worse than the other.” Kirkus
“In a voice rough as a chainsaw blade and Midwestern as a green bean casserole, debut author Gritton chronicles the trip-to-hell-and-back life of troubled Shelley Cooper… This auspicious debut marks Gritton as a storyteller to watch.” Publishers Weekly
Straight Outta Deadwood by David Boop (ed.) (Fantasy/Western)
“With stories from Charlain Harris, Mike Resnick, Stephen Graham Jones, and others, this anthology of Western horror may find fans in both genres.” Booklist
“Cross-genre fans will find this anthology enjoyable…” Publishers Weekly
Land of Wolves by Craig Johnson (Mystery/Western)
“Bestseller Johnson’s solid 15th Walt Longmire novel… keeps the reader guessing up to the satisfying ending. Witty dialogue, and endearing leand, and distinctive supporting characters all add up to a winner.” Publishers Weekly
“Johnson serves up another helping of his signature blend of mystery, history, humor and mysticism set in the vast emptiness of the high plains.” Booklist
Inland by Tea Obreht (Literary Fiction/Western)
“National Book Award finalist Obreht suspensefully reimagines an extraordinary American West filled with larger-than-life characters, imaginary marauding beasts, and ghosts who communie with the living.” Library Journal
“...Obreht inventively and scathingly dramatizes the delirium of the West - it’s myths, hardships, greed, racism, sexism, and violence - in a tornadic novel of stoicism, anguish and wonder.” Booklist
Cowboy Summer by Joanne Kennedy (Romance/Western)
“Kennedy’s delicious contemporary series launch is filled with nostalgia as a woman returns to the Wyoming ranch of her childhood and reunites with her first love.” Publishers Weekly
"This sweet but sexy tale, the kick-off for Kennedy's new Blue Sky Cowboys series, is great for fans of Linda Lael Miller's contemporary romances." Booklist
—Ransom Jabara is a Collection Development Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.