So, I've finally delved into cowboy lit. This is a genre I've wanted to investigate for some time, but except for The Ox-Bow Incident and The Big Sky (both really fine novels, btw) I had never read a western novel. I started my investigation by simply wandering the fiction stacks at my local public library. I noticed quite a few authors that seemed to have potential, but settled on Elmer Kelton.
It was a good choice.
I've read three Kelton novels so far: Barbed Wire, Llano River, and Dark Thicket. All of them are simple and direct story-telling, swiftly paced, sometimes humorous, and always thoroughly readable.
And after Googling his name I was not surprised to discover that he's been voted the greatest Western novelist of all time by the Western Writers of America!
Kelton's heroes are strong, laconic, tough, essentially decent, often somewhat worse for the wear after years of hard living, and we find them at a point in their lives when they realize they themselves must change in some way, but they're not sure how that works. Circumstances will bring that necessity to a point of crisis. So far, Llano River is my favorite.
I'm going to keep on with the Kelton, but of course I need to branch out. So I Googled "best western novels" and came up with several lists from which to choose. That's how I happened upon my current cowboy novel, The Hell Bent Kid, by Charles O. Locke. What a page turner! Young man kills another man in self defense. But the victim's brothers are out to get him. They chase him through the desert of south Texas, heading towards Mexico. Ordeal and adventure ensues. Told in the first person by the "hell bent kid" in the form of diary entries, with occasional idiosyncratic spelling ("tarnally" for eternally). This one is hard to put down. [Amazon: The Hell Bent Kid]
Anyway, point is, I'm loving these books. Looks like this will be the summer of cowboy fiction for me. Saddle up and let's ride!
Lists: Best Western Novels from the WWA, from Early Bird Books, and and from author Lee Goldberg