cover image New Trails

New Trails

John Jakes. Doubleday Books, $22.95 (306pp) ISBN 978-0-385-46990-6

In his introduction, bestselling western novelist Jakes calls the 23 original stories presented here ``virgin territory'' because, with each story written by a member of the Western Writers of America, this is allegedly the first collection ``in twenty or thirty years'' to feature only new westerns by professional authors. Maybe so, but the territory remains fairly well intact as most of the writers, who range from top names to little-knowns, eschew new visions of the western in favor of variations on traditional themes. The stories from the more celebrated authors are strong: Elmore Leonard's ""`Hurrah for Capt. Early'"" thrusts a typical gunfight into a new, racially charged setting; Jakes's ``Manitow and Ironhand'' casts a weathered trapper in an almost mythic light; in Loren D. Estleman's ``Iron Heart's Story,'' an old woman lays a neat trap to invigorate her senile husband. Other authors also spin a few new twists: Marianne Willman's ``The Death(s) of Billy the Kid,'' for example, looks at that famous event from a variety of viewpoints. But while this collection includes work from women writers to an unprecedented degree and offers yarns from several different time periods, it misses the opportunity to reenergize the western or its readership (as did, for instance, the horror/western anthology Razored Saddles). Many of the stories, such as John D. Nesbitt's ``Spring Comes to the Widow,'' are classical genre pieces that will appeal to already committed western fans without reaching out to a wider public. (Nov.)