I have yet to read a western. It’s not that I’m opposed to them, but I have this idea in my head that it would be like watching a John Wayne movie (snooze), which I know is silly. But I don’t know where to start. As part of the blog tour for her book The Juliet, author Laura Ellen Scott has provided a guest post below, complete with a list of recommendations (thanks, Laura Ellen!).
I have a confession to make: When I wrote The Juliet, my recently published novel about the search for a cursed emerald in Death Valley, I had never consciously read a Western before, nor was I aware that I had just written one. I was merely writing in response to how the Valley made me feel, and the result was a crime novel that takes place under extraordinary desert skies.
Apparently, that’s a western.
Of course, the coyote in the room is that I am a woman writer, and Westerns are generally considered the domain of male writers and readers. However, there are plenty of women setting their stories under big American skies. All you have to do is check out the annual Willa Award nominees for a reading list, but here are five of my favorites—all crime novels, of course.
Lena Jones Mysteries, by Betty Webb
Webb’s sharp series (now up to book 9) is set in present day Arizona, featuring a middle aged PI with a mysterious backstory: Lena Jones was shot at the age of four and left on an Arizona highway with no memories of her past. This series is frank about violence and social issues, and one of the more persistent themes is the loss of the romantic West as it gives way to development.
Ill Wind, by Nevada Barr
Book 3 of the Anna Pigeon series—Pigeon is an alcoholic Park Service Ranger who finds a new mystery with each job transfer. This time she ‘s landed in Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park, which is one of those Western locations overshadowed but the big parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite. What makes Mesa Verde such a riveting location for a mystery are the beautifully preserved cliff dwellings—elaborate and complex chambers built into the canyon walls by Ancestral Puebloans who lived there for 700 years then left quickly over just a few years, leaving behind the Native American equivalent of a ghost town.
Red Lightning, by Laura Pritchett
Pritchett is the author of several stunning domestic dramas set in the West, but Red Lightning features her most urgent story, that of a woman attempting to return to a family she abandoned for a life of drug and illegal immigrant trafficking. Pritchett’s unique lyricism, set against the largest wildfire in Colorado history, is what transforms this story into a gritty masterpiece.
Theft, by BK Loren
Another lyric magician, BK Loren tells the story of Willa Robbins, a tracker trying to help reintroduce the Mexican Wolf to the American Southwest, tapped by the police to help in the search for her fugitive brother. This is a pursuit novel, this is an environmental novel, this is a novel about the past. The best thrillers are the ones that open up their premises to multiple meanings and possibilities, and that’s Loren’s dramatic specialty.
Find Me, by Carroll O’Connell
In O’Connell’s ninth Mallory book, the brilliant but emotionally stunted detective leaves her New York City “comfort zone” (not sure she has one) to take a trip down route 66, following the trail of a child killer called Mack the Knife. However, just when you think this is nothing more than formulaic serial killer stuff, the story turns into something truly haunting as Mallory encounters a band of wandering parents looking for their missing children, led by a psychologist-guru. With every book in the series, O’Connell manages to expose just a little bit more of Mallory’s terrifying interiority, but in Find Me the cool sleuth’s psyche is cracked wide open—in no small part the result of her changed horizons.
Laura Ellen Scott is the author of several novels including Death Wishing, a comic fantasy set in post-Katrina New Orleans, The Juliet, a western about the search for a cursed emerald in Death Valley, and the New Royal Mysteries series set in a fictional college/prison town in Ohio. The first New Royal Mystery is The Mean Bone in Her Body, will be released in late 2016. Born and raised in Northern Ohio, Laura now lives in Fairfax, Virginia and teaches creative writing at George Mason University.
What do you think, dear readers? Is there anything on this list that you’ve already read? Which ones sound interesting to you? I’m thinking Red Lightning is one I need to pick up in the near future! If you read westerns, leave me a comment with your recommendation(s).