I love a good western novel…but there are so few writers who can do them well, avoiding the dusty cliches and tropes of the genre to deliver a powerful, memorable, original story with flesh-and-blood characters. So here are my 10 favorite western authors, in no particular order:
Larry McMurtry – Lonesome Dove and Streets of Laredo are two of the best westerns ever. Some of his follow-ups were entertaining, but never matched these two.
Frederick Manfred (aka Feike Feikema) – His Lord Grizzly is a classic, but I’d also strongly recommend Scarlet Plume, Riders of Judgment (made into a miniseries entitled The Johnson County Wars scripted by McMurtry) and Conquering Horse.
Bill Crider – I loved his books Outrage at Blanco and Texas Vigilante, which should be read back-to-back as one, wonderfully-told tale. I’ve been trying for years to get a movie version of those books off the ground and have come tantalizingly close several times. But I haven’t given up hope! He’s also written several other great westerns, too.
A.B. Guthrie – His novels The Big Sky and The Way West are not only classic novels… but classic movies, too. His wonderful westerns should be read in order (Big Sky, Way West, These Thousand Hills, Arfive, The Last Valley and Fair Land, Fair Land) since they are essentially a series.
Ed Gorman – I’ve raved about his books Trouble Man and Wolf Moon on this blog many times. But you’ll also enjoy Death Ground,Guild, hell, anything with his name on it.
H.A. DeRosso – One of the darkest western writers out there…and one of the least well known. His books include .44 , The Gun Trail, and Under the Burning Sun.
Glendon Swarthout – His terrific novel The Shootist is a classic and, fittingly, was the basis for John Wayne’s final western.
Harry Whittington – His westerns (Trouble Rides Tall, Vengeance is the Spur, etc.) are every bit as tightly-plotted and leanly-written as his fine crime novels…and were his only books to be adapted for films and movies.
Elmore Leonard – Before he was the king of crime, he was the king of westerns…many of his books and stories became beloved western movies, too… like 3:10 to Yuma, Hombre and Valdez is Coming.
Thomas Eidson – His book The Last Ride became the vastly under-rated film Missing directed by Ron Howard. His western St. Agne’s Stand is also terrific.
Other western writers I love include James Reasoner, Richard Wheeler, Bud Shrake (The Borderland), Marvin Albert, Lauran Paine, Frank Bonham, Thomas Berger (Little Big Man), Robert B. Parker (Gunman’s Rhapsody and Appaloosa), Tom Franklin (Hell at the Breech), Scott Phillips (Cottonwood), Jonathan Evison (West of Here), Patrick DeWitt (The Sisters Brothers) and Philipp Meyer (The Son). There are many more. In fact, I’m sure other authors and their great books will occur to me the instant I’ve posted this list…but that’s the risk you take when you do one of these.
(Hat tip to James Reasoner…whose list of his favorite western authors inspired me to share mine).