Friday, April 6, 2012

3 Blue Ribbon Westerns

The Spur Awards honour the year's best publications in the Western Genre. Sponsored by the Western Writers of America

The Spur Awards, given annually for distinguished writing about the American West, are among the oldest and most prestigious in American literature. In 1953, when the awards were established by WWA, western fiction was a staple of American publishing. At the time awards were given to the best western novel, best historical novel, best juvenile, and best short story.

Here for your reading enjoyment are three of the best Western novels of the year:

Remember Ben Clayton
(M) by Stephen Harrigan has been awarded the 2012 Spur award for Best Western Long novel.

*Starred Review* Like the statue at its center, Harrigan's novel is a stunning work of art resting on a solid base of heartbreak. The action ranges from the Texas plains to the devastated northern French landscape, with the presence of the violent Wild West strongly lingering. Wealthy rancher Lamar Clayton had raised his son alone after his much younger wife's death. Now Ben is dead, killed in WWI, and his taciturn father wants to memorialize him in bronze. Gi. Gilheaney, a brilliant, ambitious sculptor, accepts the commission. Gil's daughter Maureen, a talented artist herself, assists him while quietly pursuing her own dreams. To shape Ben's character into clay, they trace the dusty paths he once walked, but only his friend Arthur, a disfigured veteran, knows why Ben was so careless with his life. The story builds with determined momentum, providing a grimly vivid sense of place and deep insight into the creative process and family relationships. Harrigan's The Gates of the Alamo (2000) has become a modern classic, and his latest historical deserves similar acclaim.” - Booklist

A runner up in the Long Novel category was author James Lee Burke and his novel, Feast Day for Fools (M).

“**Starred Review* Bad guys in James Lee Burke's fiction tend to be very bad, human incarnations of evil, manifestations of something deep in our lizard brain, something that will not be civilized, that craves only chaos. In this latest Hackberry Holland title, starring the seventysomething reformed drunk and whoremonger, now sheriff in a small southwest Texas border town, the bad guys are still very bad, but they have become more multidimensional, human impulses at war with the lizard core. Chief among the antagonists this time is Preacher Jack Collins, Holland's nemesis, presumed dead at the end of Rain Gods (2009) but now risen from the desert, still toting the Thompson machine gun with which he attempts to exorcise a lifetime of demons. But this is anything but a mano-a-mano conflict.... This is one of Burke's biggest novels, in terms of narrative design, thematic richness, and character interplay, and he rises to the occasion superbly, a stand-up guy at the keyboard, as always.” - Booklist

Legacy of a Lawman: a western story (M) by Johnny D. Boggs was awarded the Best Western Short novel.

“Boggs, one of the more interesting and exciting of today's western writers, nails another one with this story, based on true events, of a deputy marshal who offers to go round up a particularly dangerous fugitive, his own son. Bass Reeves is the marshal. He captures his son, Bennie, who killed his own wife, but before Bass can bring his boy to justice, Bennie is sprung free by Cherokee Bob Dozier, a train robber, murderer, and all-around bad guy. In what appears to Bass' friend, Dave, who serves as the book's narrator, to be bloody-minded stubbornness, Bass lights out after Cherokee Bob, apparently willing to risk his own life to capture his flesh and blood. Boggs, as usual, writes crisp, clean prose, using visually evocative turns of phrase at opportune moments ( His gut looked like a balloon, his hair thinning on top but with a salt-and-pepper beard thicker than the canebrakes that once dominated the banks of the Arkansas ). The story is compelling, with plenty of surprises and some adroit social commentary. A guaranteed winner for genre readers.” - Booklist

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