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Find more Top 10 Westerns
Typically, our top 10 lists cover one year, but in the case of westerns, the rules require some changing. Not only are there relatively few westerns published in any 12-month span, but many of those that do appear are reissues of stories published decades earlier. Thus, our scan of the best of the best, while emphasizing the last year, extends back to 2001, making this list a kind of best of the decade in a genre that remains much loved among its devotees.
Beecher Island. By Tim Champlin. 2010. Five Star, $25.95 (9781594148309).
Kansas, 1868. Matt Talbot is one of three scouts attacked by a band of renegade Cherokees. He is the only survivor, and as he makes his way from the now-hostile territory, he realizes that putting his near-death experience behind him won’t be easy. An engaging western with plenty of psychological insight.
Blue-Eyed Devil. By Robert B. Parker. 2010. Putnam, $25.95 (9780399156489).
Those mourning Parker’s recent death spoke mostly of his Spenser series, but it’s also a shame that this fourth Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch western is apparently his last. The saga of these two sweet-talking, wrong-undoing cowboys had the makings of something very special.
The Book of Murdock. By Loren B. Estleman. 2010. Forge, $23.99 (9780765316004).
Page Murdock is a Montana lawman who impersonates a priest to infiltrate an outlaw gang. On the way to corralling the bad guys, he realizes he’s a damn good preacher. In any genre, Estleman can be counted on to tell a story filled with humor, irony, and melancholy.
A Cold Place in Hell. By William Blinn. 2009. Kensington, $5.99 (9780786020768).
Blinn, who wrote TV westerns for Rawhide and Bonanza, knows the genre inside out, as he proves in this thoughtful and compassionate tale about two friends and what happens when one must shoulder the other’s load.
Custer’s Brother’s Horse. By Edwin Shrake. 2007. John M. Hardy, $24.95 (9780971766785).
At the end of the Civil War, three unlikely companions flee a detachment of Union troops led by the less-famous but equally imposing Custer brother. Shrake delivers a smart, lusty, and captivating high adventure that mixes history, humor, and derring-do.
Far Bright Star. By Robert Olmstead. 2009. Algonquin, $23.95 (9781565125926).
American cavalryman Napoleon Childs, charged with turning raw recruits into soldiers prior to WWI, sends his troops in search of Pancho Villa through the canyons and arroyos of a bleak yet lyrically rendered landscape. The spare, often poetic prose packs a potent emotional wallop.
Jericho’s Road. By Elmer Kelton. 2004. Forge, $23.95 (9780765363701).
The sixth book in Kelton’s wonderful Texas Ranger series about the development of the Lone Star State during the turbulent 1800s deftly uses characters from past entries while folding in new personalities. This is arguably the best ongoing western series in the genre today.
Montana Dawn. By Stone Wallace. 2010. Avalon, $23.95 (9780803477704).
Montana Dawn is a kind of western Bonnie Parker: when a charismatic outlaw rode through town one day, she saddled up. This unusual western mines some fairly fresh ground: female outlaws are in relatively short supply, but Wallace sells the premise completely.
The Stone Garden. By Bill Brooks. 2001. Forge, $23.95 (9780812570052).
Here’s a marvelous what-if novel that explores the possibility—believed by many to be true—that Sheriff Pat Garrett didn’t kill Billy the Kid. Brooks captures the everyday humanity behind the legends while simultaneously adding to the myth of the Old West. Inventive, moving, and memorable.
The Wild Girl: The Notebooks of Ned Giles, 1932. By Jim Fergus. 2005. Hyperion, $23.95 (9781401300548).
Fergus uses historical events as a springboard for this western epic shot through the lens of Depression photographer Ned Giles, who joins something called the Great Apache Expedition and winds up in Mexico trying to break a wild Apache girl (“La niña bronca”) out of jail. A riveting tale of survival and self-discovery.
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