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BooksApril 3, 2020

The Unity Books chart for the strange week ending April 3: The wild west

wild west edited

Welcome to the second edition of our lockdown Top 10s. A reminder that this chart has nothing to do with sales or launches or the publishing cycle; these are just books the Unity team love – and this week it’s westerns, full of big skies and long rides and showdowns.


All by Jo McColl:

1. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (1985)

An enormous epic spanning all of the west – a cattle drive from the Rio Grande to Montana, with Texas rangers, settlers, Indians, cowboys, sheriffs, whores and outlaws. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this is a masterpiece of the genre.

2. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (1992)

Two young men ride out from Texas to Mexico is search of the “real west”. The stripped-down simplicity of McCarthy’s style won this mesmerising novel international acclaim, and allowed the literary world to access their inner cowboys.

3. Doc by Mary Doria Russell (2011)

It’s 1878 – a 26-year-old dentist arrives in Dodge City chasing the dry air for his health. The name Doc Holliday will soon resonate throughout the mythology of the west. This masterly reimagining of the scholarly gun-slinger and gambler and his friendship with Wyatt Earp is outstanding.

4. God’s Country by Percival Everett (1994)

Marder, a white trash gambler, has lost everything. To find the thieves he hires the best tracker in the west – a black man of few words named Bubba. It’s darkly humorous, and the topic of race is bang centre of this smart, satirical western.

5. Deadwood by Pete Dexter (1986)

Deadwood is a brawling, gambling boomtown on the frontier. Wild Bill Hickok is ageing, Calamity Jane is unpredictable, and Jack McCall is up for anything. Often hilarious, this novel breathes the spirit of the old west, and weirdly it’s mostly true.

6. The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (2000)

Australia’s most famous outlaw is given his own unique voice – semiliterate and perfectly evocative. Kelly takes the reader on one hell of a ride, every page a sizzler. Murderous outlaw or Robin Hood? You decide. Breathtakingly brilliant.

7. The Son by Philipp Meyer (2013)

Two hundred years of Texan history told through the lives of the McCullough family. This epic western has it all, endless prairies, horses, Comanches, ranching, oil, greed, savagery and love. Just thinking about it makes me want to read all 561 pages again!

8. The Pistoleer: A novel of John Wesley Hardin by James Carlos Blake (1995)

Wes Hardin was many things; killer, farmer, folk hero and scholar, and dead at 42. With each chapter narrated from a different character’s perspective, this violent powerful novel reveals the complicated nature of the legendary gun slinger.

9. Far as the Eye Can See by Robert Bausch (2014)

Bobby Hale is a Union veteran travelling across the Great Plains to California. Bobby is a good man but tensions are rising between the “Injuns” and the white men. Mistakes are made, leading inevitably to the Battle of Little Bighorn. Superb.

10. The Cowboy Dog by Nigel Cox (2006)

In this book set in Aotearoa, the Central Volcanic Plateau is populated with coyotes, eagles, cacti and cowboys. Following his father’s murder, Chester Farlowe must leave the plateau ranch and make his way in the badlands of Ponsonby. Leave your common sense behind and jump on board the freight train!


1. Shane by Jack Schaefer (1949)

A timeless story and if the vehicle is rusty, focus on the styling and the engine. The silent hero with “a past”, who stands up for the weak, vanquishes the greedy and leaves behind a community developing resilience and self-reliance. The quintessential western and a model for our age. / Jacqui Brokenshaw

2. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985)

McCarthy’s masterpiece. The savagery of the wildest west is portrayed with poetic, epic prose that is unforgettable. Follow a gang of scalp-hunters on a brutal journey during which they encounter Judge Holden, a personification of evil raised to mythic proportions. / Dylan Sherwood

3. The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left Handed Poems by Michael Ondaatje (1970)

Writing this as a verse novel mostly from the perspective of William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid, was an excellent choice. A short, powerful read filled with descriptions of inhumanity and strange landscapes that will stay with you. / Dylan Sherwood

4. Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton (2016)

Hamilton’s first novel is equal parts wild, wild west, and Arabian Nights. Gunslinger Amani just wants to escape the backwater town in which she’s lived her whole life. But her escape drags her into a brewing rebellion and creatures of magic no longer content to hide in the shadows. At once magical and grounded, you’ll tear through this rip-roaring desert adventure! / Clara van Wel

5. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (2011)

Eco-literary-western. Eli Sisters, the younger and gentler of the two hired guns, explains wild west California, 1851. Fascinating ecological themes. Beavers! Shortlisted for the Booker. Laconic; subversive; spectacular sibling rivalries. Weak movie adaption. / Tilly Lloyd

6. A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale (2015)

Edwardian-plough-western. Gay homesteaders in a small town called Winter isolated in a harsh landscape under the threat of war, madness and an evil man. Autumnal; hidden depths; leathery. / Tilly Lloyd

7. Last of the Breed by Louis L’Amour (1987)

Sioux-WW2-western. Test pilot major in the US Air Force Joe Makatozi escapes Soviet gulag; pursued across Siberia, channels ancient Sioux knowledge. One of the few good L’Amours. / Tilly Lloyd

8. The Shootist by Glendon Swarthout (1975)

Old school-western. Novella; aged gunslinger about to die of cancer has to host a querulous queue of score-settlers and wannabes. Spare; dusty; over-exposed lighting. John Wayne. Might be at Aro St Video later on. / Tilly Lloyd

9. Three-Ten to Yuma and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard (2006)

A short story packed into mere hours, we hole up with a deputy marshal and his train-robbing captive awaiting the train bound for Yuma prison. Tension from the jump, this classic doesn’t disappoint. / Dani Henke

10. The Man from Snowy River by Banjo Paterson (1890)

An absolute classic! This beautifully illustrated picture book follows a ride to fetch back a valuable horse from the Brumby mob. The impossible downhill ride brings gooseflesh to my skin every time. / Dani Henke

Keep going!