Available June 7th!
I remember reading Tony Hillerman for the first time and thinking “Oh Shiprock, NM! I almost got arrested for dealing marshmallows there!”. It was a unique experience that forever glues a place like Shiprock in your mind. But that’s the great thing about western crime fiction, I didn’t need to be there to appreciate the force of the environment. Westerns have a way of building the landscape as a character itself. Stories that take place in the American West often pit characters against hostile and unforgiving natural forces.
Writers of western crime are really quite good at setting this natural stage. So it isn’t absolutely necessary that you’ve been where the book takes place. For me, it was just an added bonus that I had a memory associated with northern New Mexico. It was a heart-warming recollection of being approached by a man who shoved a 20 in my open window and asked for drugs while a police officer looked on curiously as I handed the man a half-eaten bag of jumbo marshmallows and informed him that I might be over-charging. I remember mostly his confused terror and my relief at his rejection of the sale. I really wanted to eat the rest of those.
But while you don’t need to have been there to get a good sense of place in a western, you might find yourself chasing after the real thing. Maybe a nice drive across Wyoming to see for yourself the inspired landscape of Craig Johnson’s Longmire and C.J. Box’s Pickett. Or maybe you want to go east where Texas goes to swamp and hide out with Hap and Leonard. But while you are there you should turn around and head to the western fringe of Texas, to the desiccated borderlands of a new turf in Texas crime. J. Todd Scott’s The Far Empty is a decadent and dark first novel that unfolds as the lives of a small town intersect at corruption, delusion and flickering hope. Mr. Scott has signed a deal for two more in the series and I don’t understand why they won’t let me wait on his porch until they are done.
But a note of caution. You may find yourself liking westerns so much you start posing for silly pictures in cowboy hats and holding a reproduction 1847 Colt Walker. This black powder beauty weighs 9lbs loaded and serves as a club after you fire your last shot. And it plays a staring role in The Far Empty.
You might be forced to admit that the hat is your own and so are the boots. The gun isn’t mine, but it belongs to hubbs so I get touchy touchy privileges. You might confess to callin’ people ‘folks’ once in a while but only if you are sending them a ‘howdy’. And you may or may not, own up to having a pet tumbleweed.
Stay puffy my friends.