cover image Century of Great Western Stories

Century of Great Western Stories

John Jakes. Forge, $27.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86986-1

Although most outlets for the western short story vanished with pulp magazines, where the westerns were ""10% myth and 90% horse apple,"" there remains great nostalgic interest in this literary Americana. Jakes, the prolific bestselling author of historical sagas like North and South and the Kent Family Chronicles series, and an avid fan of the true western, has put together a superb anthology of 30 western short fictions written in the last 100 years, including pieces by such earlier well-known writers as Owen Wister, Zane Grey, Max Brand and Luke Short, as well as contributions from modern-day authors like Bill Pronzini, Brian Garfield and Elmer Kelton. Though each story is unique in style and delivery, all reflect the color and adventure of the Old West. John M. Cunningham's ""The Tin Star"" (1947) became the classic western film High Noon, but this short narrative has a different message and ending. Ernest Haycox's ""Stage to Lordsburg"" (1937) served as the basis for director John Ford's legendary movie Stagecoach; the story's cowboy hero collects a debt with drama that rivals any John Wayne could muster. Also among the best are Jack Schaefer's ""Sergeant Houck"" (1951), a touching and romantic tale of a cavalryman's compassion in the face of hate and prejudice, and Marcia Muller's ""Sweet Cactus Wine"" (1982), in which a woman's revenge is the sweetest draft of all. Romance, murder, action, mystery and suspense are mixed with hefty doses of moral dilemma, guilt and redemption in these carefully plotted tales--and the good guys do not always win. Many of the stories are appearing here for the first time since they were published in the pulps of the '30s, '40s and '50s, but their appeal is as fresh as ever. (Apr.)