The western is dead. Or so you’ve been told. It’s been declared dead more times than Justin Bieber and that’s really saying something. While this declaration usually pertains more to films than fiction, it’s often applied to both. Westerns certainly aren’t enjoying the same success as they did in the 50s and 60s (or even the early 1900s during the dime western heyday), but to declare it dead is ridiculous – at best it ignores the genre, at worst it blatantly discredits it. I’m happy to say that western fiction* is very much alive, even thriving, if The Sisters Brothers, The Thicket, and Road to Reckoning are any indication.

Road to Reckoning

Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner is the story of a quiet, bookish twelve year old boy named Thomas Walker. He lives in Manhattan. Thomas is homeschooled by his aunt and frightened of rambunctious boys out in the street. While he’s always enjoyed a comfortable enough existence, his world changes when his mother dies of the pocks. His father, panicking financially, approaches Samuel Colt’s firearms company and agrees to help sell the world’s first true revolver. In comparison, he previously sold spectaculars (or spectacles). Thomas and his father set out through Pennsylvania, by horse and wagon, to take orders for firearms, but not even the colt can save them. Not even twelve.

I, too this day, hold to only one truth: if a man chooses to carry a gun he will get shot.

Thomas loses his father to a violent vicious act. He encounters ex-ranger Henry Stands and the two begin an unlikely partnership.

When I first met Henry Stands I imagined he was a man of few friends. When I last knew of him I was sure he had even fewer. But, it could be said, just as true, that he had fewer enemies because of it. And as I get older I can see the wisdom of that.

While I have no doubt that the novel will garner comparison to True Grit, this story is more than just a straightforward revenge quest. What begins as a story of a father and son quickly becomes a story of murder, revenge, friendship, and the journey back to home. The novel is set against the history of Colt firearms and the way it and industry changed the west (essentially the improvement of the act of murder, no?). It has a distinctive, engaging narrative voice and a meandering plot that never fails to entertain. Thomas must learn that while everything once seemed black and white, there are shades of grey and degrees of good (and evil). While Road to Reckoning** is a typical western in the best sense, it has quiet moments of heart and reflection as well. Very highly recommended for fans of westerns and generally recommended for fans of good literary fiction. Overall, a very impressive debut, 4.5/5.

So do you think the western is dead? Even if you aren’t typically a fan of the genre, I’d suggest giving this one a chance. At the very least, you’ll learn a bit about the history of firearms.

Hunter's Stew

While I couldn’t quite bring myself to recommend it with rabbit stew, a Hunter’s Stew (image via Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes) would be a good substitute. It uses vegetarian sausage. Admit it, those croutons are tempting.

*And then there’s film. Let’s all ignore the existence of The Lone Ranger and Cowboys and Aliens and focus on recent western films that have been successful: Brokeback Mountain, True Grit, Dances with Wolves, 3:10 to Yuma, Back to the Future III, Meek’s Cutoff, No Country for Old Men, and Django Unchained – just to name a few…,
**In the interest of full disclosure: I received a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.


  1. I have read a couple of good westerns recently because of seeing the excellent movies. I read True Grit after the Jeff Bridges movie came out, and Appaloosa by Robert B. Parker made an excellent movie and book. Also, Mary Doria Russell’s book Doc, about Doc Holliday, was very interesting.


    1. I’ve been wanting to read the story that 3:10 to Yuma was based on, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. I ending up reading True Grit for the same reason you did and I enjoyed it, but I thought this one was a little better.

      I’m totally drawing a blank, but Doc Holliday was in a book I read somewhat recently and I can’t remember what it was… I’ll have to check out Doc though.


    1. I liked it. Like True Grit, it’s a short book, but well done. There are some really lovely moments in it, which I felt is sort of unusual in a western. Also, I find it totally weird that the author was born and raised in the UK. I don’t know why, but I do…


    1. Sometimes that is the best way to discover books. Some of my favorites have come about that way.

      I have a thing for all bread products, though I generally try to keep control of myself.


  2. I have a soft spot for westerns and certainly don’t think their dead! I keep telling myself that I will try The Sisters Brothers again. I think I was just very unfocused last time.
    Have you read The Assassination of Robert Ford… ? I only saw the movie but curious about the book.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: