As I understand it, for years – even decades – westerns were a solid, if less than glamorous, steady and reliable source of income for publishers and writers. Each month they would sell a predictable number of copies to a reliable audience, made the predicted amount of money, and everybody was happy. Somewhere, as I understand it, the conglomerates decided that the predictable, steady money coming in wasn’t enough.
So the westerns lines were cancelled.
At the time, I was just starting to get published in the westerns genre, with an editor from a respectable publisher interested in a series, and then suddenly I had no markets. Not just me, but a lot of writers who were much more established and well known than me.
And perhaps, worse, the fans.
Of course, there was Larry McMurtry. And the Louis L’Amour reprints. During that dry spell, however, I often heard comments from readers wishing that new westerns were still being published. You can only re-read Louis L’Amour so many times.
The drought seems to have been broken from a most ironic source: modern digital technology. As in e-books. New publishers like Wolfpack Publishing, Endeavor/Pioneer Press, and Speaking Volumes are now releasing books that have been out of print for years- even decades. More importantly, they are issuing new work.
A very good example of this is Revenge of the Damned by L. J. Martin. (2017, Wolfpack Publishing). It is by far one of the most enjoyable new westerns released recently. It has the traits common to work from the days when westerns were plentiful.
The protagonist, Linc Dolan, is far from perfect but is a likeable sort. He is a common man caught in an extraordinary situation set up by a truly nasty character: Oscar Wentworth, who had been Dolan’s commanding officer during the war. After the war, Wentworth lied to Dolan’s intended about his death in battle and then married her. He became city marshal and has been robbing the town blind. This story starts when years after the war, Dolan and the woman meet again and consummate their marriage that should have but never happened; Wentworth promptly kills the woman and frames Dolan; and Wentworth’s men are after Dolan:
Damned if there's times when a cup full of blood don't look like a slop bucket full. I hope this is one of those times. 'Cause if it ain't, I'm about bled out. When there's been a half-dozen owl hoots slinging lead your way, one of them's bound to get lucky, and damned if one of them didn't. Maybe two.
Dolan survives by his wits until he is saved by a pretty widow and her son. They are ultimately joined by two other wanted men: Bama, a black mule skinner, and Two Dogs, a Crow tracker. It is an uneasy alliance, though they all earn mutual respect.
The book is filled with narrow escapes and shoot-outs, leading to a satisfactory climax. (Hint: The good guys win.)
One thing that I like is that while the story may not be high art, the reader does not feel he is being patronized. The story moves well, the plot is consistent with the characters, and the writing is clean.
I have two minor complaints. Martin tells the story with a first-person point of view, with Dolan telling the story mixed with third person perspectives, which can be a bit disorienting at first. I was also disappointed that while this was one of a series, the series was about Montana rather than the characters I had spent time with in this book and would like to get to know better.
But, hey, I’m not going to complain about such trifles.
The drought seems to be over.