In my humble opinion, the Western fiction landscape is as rich and exciting these days as it has been in a long time. Perhaps, inasmuch as I've put my own brand on a few of the titles roaming around on that landscape, I am somewhat biased. Or maybe just hopeful.
But I think it's more than that.
I think the reality is undeniable, and I think eBooks are playing a big part in why this is taking place.
But don't take my word for it. I offer, as back-up, the following evidence.
Here are a few recent titles that present a wide range of styles and plot devices that demonstrate some of the skill and freshness that is helping to revitalize the genre:
Here is a gritty traditional Western, a novella featuring Wesley Quaid, who has appeared previously in a number of short stories by Pizzolato. Quaid is the quintessential anti-hero, the outlaw of the title. Specifically, he is a bank robber, a wanted man in Texas who arrives in the quiet town of Leesville, Kansas, seeking to change his life—after he makes one more "forcible withdrawal" as he dubs his bank transactions.
But Quaid has barely climbed down from his saddle before he is caught up in a series of events that end up diverting him drastically off course from his simple plan. First he backs down a snot-nosed punk who turns out to be the spoiled son of the area's wealthiest and most powerful rancher; then he encounters a lovely brown-eyed young woman who stirs deeper feelings in him than he thought possible; and then—even more surprising and unlikely—he signs on as Leesville's new deputy marshal.
But Pizzolato is only getting warmed up with these initial plot twists. There are plenty more as the story propels along. Without spoiling too much, let me just say that Quaid goes from outlaw to lawman to hero and, ultimately, back to outlaw again before the conclusion is reached. But even Quaid the Outlaw is likable, in a cockeyed kind of way. And certainly in comparison to the evil scum he must overcome at the climax.
The action is relentless (including dalliances with some lovely and willing females), the characters colorful (in addition to the aforementioned females), and the passages of introspection on Quaid's part give the reader a welcome dose of insight into the man.
A real (electronic) page-turner. Recommended.
The setting is Bodie, California, 1879. At the last possible second, Ace McTavish is saved from hanging for a pair of murders he is innocent of committing. His rescuers are two "Storm Riders"—operatives from the future, sent by a government monitoring agency to mend "rifts" in time that, if left uncorrectred, will have disruptive affects on the space/ time continuum. The rift in this case would be allowing McTavish to be executed; exactly what future disruption this would cause is unclear.
But things turn out not to be as simple as just rescuing McTavish from the hangman's noose. In addition, you see, he is supposed to stay alive. And, since he immediately states his intentions to go back to Bodie in order to try and clear his name, there is every reason for the Storm Riders who rescued him to believe he will be apprehended and end up on the gallows all over again. That means that, in order to completely fulfill their mission, the Riders—Samantha and Denny—must help McTavish clear his name and set things right.
What ensues is a series of twists and turns that meshes Old West shoot-outs and cunning with futuristic gadgetry and intrigue. Along the way, Samantha and McTavish begin to develop feelings for one another. Storm Riders are forbidden from ever interacting with a "package" (someone they've time-traveled to save from a fate gone askew) in even the slightest way—let alone get romantically involved with.
There is a slam-bang climax, a final surprise twist at the end, and plenty of action along the way. All seasoned with sharp dialogue and straightforward descriptive passages, as a testament to Nutt's writing talent.
A very well done change-of-pace Western. Or maybe a change-of-pace Science Fiction adventure … Depending which angle you're coming at it from, I guess.
In any event, a fun read that I strongly recommend.
And, last but not least, the sure hand of Peter Brandvold proves itself once again with this recently released novella featuring Gideon Hawk, one of Mean Pete's many recurring characters. Dubbed the "Rogue Lawman" due to his relentless pursuit of lawbreakers and evil-doers following the savage murder of his wife and son, Hawk's ruthless handling of the worst scum on the frontier—often outside the boundaries of strict legal procedures—at times puts him on the wrong of "the law". But that doesn't deter him from still doing things the way he sees fit.
Case in point: The recent stagecoach robbery pulled by the Bobcat Jack Bunch. After successfully seizing all the money and valuables they were after, the Bunch mercilessly ran the coach over a steep cliff, sending the two women and children who aboard to a bruising, bloody death.
One by one, Hawk has tracked down four of the five gang members and dispatched them in his coldly efficient way. The trail of the final killer leads Hawk high into the mountains where the warmth and hospitality of a lonely widow who has buried her own loved ones offers welcome respite from the manhunter's trail … If, that is, everything is as it appears on the outside.
Brandvold writes gritty, blood-spattered action and evocative imagery as good or better than just abut anybody who's ever worked in the genre. This fast-paced yarn is proof that he shows no signs of slowing down. Things start off with a bang (or, more literally, a "BOOM!") and the pace never lags after that. Mean Pete can damn sure still pack a punch and he can also pack a nifty surprise or two.
Persevere --- WD