“This Ain’t Texas” Display


Have you ever read a Western novel?  Do you know what makes a Western a Western?  These novels primarily take place in the Western United States, with some books extending into Canada and Mexico, and are usually set somewhere between the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the 20th century.  In Western novels, tension within the story results from external conflict: small towns threatened by outlaws, cowboys herding cattle, and gunslingers facing off against sheriffs could all be settings for a Western novel.  The protagonists or heroes of these books may not be fully developed, allowing readers to imagine themselves within the story and setting.  Real-life Western stars like Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday might make an appearance, characters battle the elements, and betrayal is a common theme.  These action-packed adventures use details and tone to capture the reader’s attention, and they stay for the satisfying ending where good triumphs over evil and justice is served.


If you’re new to the Western scene, there are a few key authors to note.  Johnny D. Boggs is a prolific, award-winning author of the genre.  His books are full of adventure and rich details, with well-drawn characters.  Reading “Mojave” is a good place to start.


William W. Johnstone often writes with his nephew, J.A. Johnstone.  Check out “Sidewinders” as an introduction to his work.  His books feature fast-paced, plot-driven stories filled with relentless action and plenty of violence. Johnstone’s period detail is exceptional, and his works can be set anywhere from central Nebraska to Scotland and any time in the past, present, or future.


Larry McMurty is best known for de-romanticizing the American West, both past and present. His leisurely paced, long novels allow for the development of unforgettable, vivid characters. Start with Lonesome Dove.


Cormac McCarthy is known for literary fiction and modern westerns with disturbing stories, evocative Southwest settings, and incomparable prose.  Because events in these stories unfold erratically, your attention is captured with each individual sentence.  Start with “All the Pretty Horses“.


Key novels in the genre include Wolves of Eden by Kevin McCarthy and Outlawed by Anna North.  In Wolves of Eden, set in post-Civil War Montana, two Irish brothers reenlist in the Army after struggling to adjust to life as farm laborers and find themselves in the middle of violent fights with an alliance of tribes.  At the same time, a Lieutenant and his aide receive orders to find the killers responsible for the murder of a prominent Washington D.C. couple. Their search leads to a military fort in Montana where they deal with two dangerous forces — the Sioux and the men inside the Fort, who do not support their investigation.  In Outlawed, the protagonist, Ada, is driven from her home after failing to become pregnant and being accused of witchcraft.  She ends up finding the Hole in the Wall gang, a group of outlaws made up of LGBTQIA women, barren women, and other outcasts. Using the skills she learned from her midwife mother, she becomes the doctor for the group, who want to build a proper community for other queer or gender-nonconforming people.  Ada joins the gang on their many, sometimes violent, adventures as they strive to transform the Wild West.


One of the top themes in western is “novels of place,” in which the stories are as much about the setting as they are about the characters.  “Centennial” by James A. Michener celebrates the rich history of the American West, with characters such as Lame Beaver, Levi Zendt, and other assorted trappers and traders.  In the “rural police” theme, crime is not absent, just more spread out.  The police here are going to close their cases without fancy forensic labs.  Check out “Next To Last Stand” or “Daughter of the Morning Star” by Craig Johnson.  There’s nothing quite like a character scorned in a “vengeance is mine” novel.  In “The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu,” the main character fights his way across the West to rescue his wife and exact revenge on the men who destroyed him.  Ming Tsu is aided by a blind clairvoyant and a troupe of magic-show performers as he settles old scores along his journey.  In “weird Westerns,” the West is infused with fantasy and supernatural elements.  Charlaine Harris’s “An Easy Death” reimagines an alternate history where the US collapsed during WWII and was split into five different countries, including the southwestern territory of Texoma.  Alma Katsu’s “The Hunger” retells the Donner party story with a Walking Dead style twist.


You’ll find these titles and more in our “This Ain’t Texas” display.  You’ll also find a few cowboy-themed romance novels for those of you who love a good romance!  For additional title suggestions, see the lists below: