Larry McMurtry is known as one of the best ‘Old West’ novelists in the history of US literature. More specifically, his 1985 piece Lonesome Dove won a Pulitzer Prize, and many will argue it is the best ‘western’ novel of all time.
McMurtry also co-wrote the screenplay for the 2005 film Brokeback Mountain, which won three Academy Awards from eight nominations. His legacy in the genre knows numerous genres, and Lonesome Dove is seen as the benchmark for great stories told in the American west.
Today we’re going to take a look at 20 must-read novels for those who are fans of Lonesome Dove. You have likely heard of several on the list, even if you haven’t read them. But, there will be some that many aren’t familiar with, and are well worth checking out if you have some spare time on your hands.
Let’s get to it!
It’s almost impossible to have a list of the best western based novels and not include The Gunslinger. Stephen King is one of the most famous authors of all time; many argue The Gunslinger is his best work.
The story is the first part of an eight-part epic series known as ‘The Dark Tower.’ The series mixes western, fantasy, and horror inspirations to tell the story of Roland of Gilead. While not a traditional western, it remains a title fans of the old west will enjoy.
You can purchase The Gunslinger and the entire Dark Tower series on Amazon here.
The Magpie Coffin
If you like violence in your westerns, the ‘Splatter Western’ subgenre is for you. Author Wile E. Young authored The Magpie Coffin, and the novel doesn’t pull punches.
Salem Covington is the protagonist; his story is full of revenge, violence, and a lot of blood. This isn’t a novel for the faint of heart! For fans of the supernatural, those elements are present in The Magpie Coffin.
If you are interested and want to purchase The Magpie Coffin, it’s available on Amazon here.
In another example of westerns mixing with other genres, Dustborn mixes western with a post-apocalyptic world. Author Erin Bowman brings a fresh concept that should bring together fans of multiple genres.
Delta of Dead River is the protagonist, she sets out to rescue her family from a dictator who is creating a stronghold in the Wastes. Her journey takes many twists and turns which will keep readers hooked.
If you’re interested in this genre-bending novel of western intrigue, it is available for purchase on Amazon here.
Make Me No Grave: A Weird West Novel
Author Haley Stone brings an extremely interesting twist to her re-imagining of the Old West. If you like magic, witches, and westerns — this is the perfect read for you.
This high fantasy western sees the protagonist Marshal Apostle Richardson, deal with the rare woman antagonist in westerns, Almena Guillory. How does Marshal Richardson attempt to bring the Grizzly Queen to justice? You will have to give Make Me No Grave: A Weird West Novel a read to find out!
If you want to experience a western world of witches, magic, and intrigue you can purchase Make Me No Grave: A Weird West Novel on Amazon here.
In The Valley Of The Sun
Andy Davidson shares a similar location to Larry McMurtry’s setting in many of his novels, Texas. However, Davidson adds a splash of the occult to his novel, In The Valley Of The Sun.
The novel follows Travis Stillwell, who begins his journey looking for one-night stands in West Texas. His life turns around after coming in contact with a mysterious woman. Soon multiple lives converge on a dusty night.
If you want to find out what happens to all those involved in this complex novel, you’re going to have to give it a read.
Sound interesting? If your attention is grabbed, you can snatch In The Valley Of The Sun on Amazon here.
Louis L’Amour brings to you a traditional Old West story told in a captivating fashion. Tucker is the story of Shell Tucker, who after a misfortune, no spoilers here, decides to prove his worth and do what he feels is right.
Shell Tucker’s motivations are justice, revenge, and helping his community to what is rightfully theirs. How does he deal with extremely heavy odds as his heart weighs heavy?
If you’re a fan of traditional western stories and a journey of discovery, Tucker is the novel for you. It’s available for purchase on Amazon here.
Dead Ringer: A Western Trio
Famed Old West writer, Louis L’Amour has another entry on our list with Dead Ringer: A Western Trio. This is a collection western fans can’t afford to miss if they haven’t already had the chance to read them.
Black Rock, Gamble of the KT, and Showdown Trail tell three unique stories with different themes that are relatable to those familiar with traditional western themes.
Louis L’Amour is an acclaimed western writer for a reason. If you’re interested in purchasing Dead Ringer: A Western Trio, the collection is available on Amazon here.
All The Pretty Horses
Author Cormac McCarthy drafted a traditional western in All The Pretty Horses, the first entry in the three-part ‘Border Trilogy.’ While many of the common themes are present, All The Pretty Horses stands out with some unique twists.
Protagonist John Grady Cole is a mere sixteen-year-old who sets off for a journey to Mexico, where violence is commonplace. His friends sometimes allow the novel to have a comedic tone, but this is a true coming-of-age western.
If you’re interested in picking up All The Pretty Horses, it is available on Amazon here.
A Man Called Justice
A Man Called Justice is the first part of the four book ‘Silent Justice’ series penned by author John Deacon. A Man Called Justice is a classic western that traditional fans of the genre will love.
The story follows Justice in a gritty, violent, and passionate novel where he must overcome extreme odds to protect those he cares for. If you don’t mind a touch of romance to go with your westerns, this is a read you can’t pass up.
A Man Called Justice is available for purchase on Amazon here.
Smoke Jensen, The Beginning
William W. Johnstone is known as one of the best western writers in history; Smoke Jensen, The Beginning was finished by his successor J.A. Johnstone. This traditional classic western is in the style that made Johnston famous.
The novel follows Kirby Jensen and his coming to age in a time of blood, violence, and loss. If you are a fan of either Johnstone, this is a novel for you and is the first of five novels in a series following Smoke Jensen.
If are interested, Smoke Jensen, The Beginning, and the entire Smoke Jensen series are available on Amazon here.
The Lonesome Gods
Author Louis L’Amour has another entry on this list with The Lonesome Gods. Another traditionally classic western that tackles themes veterans of the genre are familiar with.
The story focuses on Johannes Verne, who overcomes the betrayal of a family member to become an educated adventurer. However, he cannot escape the demons of his past. How does Verne protect what he worked hard to earn?
Check out this classic by Louis L’Amour if you want to dig yourself into a great story. The Lonesome Gods is available on Amazon here.
The Tall Stanger: A Novel
Louis L’Amour’s The Tall Stranger: A Novel, tells the classic Old Story of settlers that come into conflict with Native Americans, struggle, and difficulty finding a safe place to live.
Mother Nature is one of the biggest hurdles characters within The Tall Stranger: A Novel must combat, with danger seemingly threatening the easterners looking for a new beginning out west.
If you want to take part in this adventure of intrigue and danger you can purchase The Tall Stranger: A Novel on Amazon here.
Horseman, Pass By
This list wouldn’t be complete without another one of Larry McMurtry’s classics. Horseman, Pass By is the first part of the Thalia, Texas series. The gritty and down-to-earth novel takes place in McMurtry’s favorite location in Texas and doesn’t hold back.
The story follows Lonnie Bannon, who grows up amid a family feud and a disease that threatens his family’s livestock. How do Lonnie’s surroundings affect his growth into a man?
If you want to learn more about Lonnie, you can purchase Horseman, Pass By on Amazon here. The full Thalia, Texas series is also available on Amazon here.
The Big Sky
Author A.B. Guthrie Jr. uses the Old West as a landscape to tell a grand story in The Big Sky. In what is the first epic adventure western drafted by Guthrie, The Big Sky is a must-read for all western fans.
The story focuses on a group of friends who live as frontiersmen to conquer and thrive within the wilderness. If you appreciate large adventures where nature is depicted as a living creature, The Big Sky may become one of your favorite novels.
For the adventure-minded, The Big Sky is available on Amazon here. Don’t miss this amazing western.
Willa Cather, The Prairie Trilogy: O Pioneers!, The Song Of The Lark, My ÁNtonia
Willa Cather became a prominent and critically acclaimed western writer during her time. The Prairie Trilogy includes the O Pioneers!, The Song Of The Lark, and what many consider a masterpiece, My ÁNtonia.
Each novel in the collection tells a different story with the new west playing an important role in the arc. Cather is credited for bringing life into westerns, giving the backdrop a unique and interesting personality.
If you haven’t been exposed to Willa Cather’s western stories and are a fan of the genre, you can purchase the collection on Amazon here.
The Round House
Louise Erdrich deserves a lot of credit for being bold enough to tell a complex story with a western and Native American backdrop. While different from almost every other novel on the list, it remains true to the western genre.
The story tackles a teenage boy and his friends’ efforts to find out who attacked his mother while his father goes about more traditional means to find justice. The Round House is a mature coming-of-age story that blends in mystery all in a western backdrop on a North Dakota reservation.
If you have yet to read The Round House, it’s available for purchase on Amazon here.
Cogewea, The Half Blood
In a historically relevant novel, Cogewea, The Half Blood is one of the first known English novels by a Native American woman. Published in 1927, Cogewea, The Half Blood is a western novel told from a Native American woman’s perspective.
Author Mourning Dove uses authentic Native American lore and combines it with the dialogue of a popular romance. If you’re a fan of romance and unique writing styles, this is definitely a novel you will want to explore.
Cogewea, The Half Blood is available for purchase on Amazon here.
Claiming Her Legacy
Claiming Her Legacy is a relatively new novel that follows Willa Malone, who is motivated by revenge and the will to take care of her family. Author Linda Goodnight paints a realistic picture of grit, determination, and overcoming personal hurdles.
Themes of romance are present in the Old West backdrop; however, there is much more to this story. Gideon Hartley is far from a perfect man without a flaw to this name.
Are you interested in reading about Willa Malone’s journey? Claiming Her Legacy is available on Amazon here.
Woman Of Light
Woman Of Light uses a 1930s western backdrop to tell an intelligent and complex story of family, survival, love, and dynamic encounters. Author Kali Fajardo-Anstine was fearless in her approach to telling a unique and captivating story published in 2022.
If you are interested in reading how a family’s secrets become unraveled, Woman Of Light will take you on a journey and introduce you to characters you won’t soon forget.
The incredible Woman Of Light is available for purchase on Amazon here.
Wounded: A Novel
Wounded: A Novel tackles numerous forms of bigotry, loss, and growth with class and dignity in the backdrop of Wyoming. Author Percival Everett tells an incredible story of a melanated man who has to endure racism while living out his love of being a horse trainer.
If you are prepared to take on a western novel that is unique from other stories on this list, Wounded: A Novel will take you on a thought-provoking adventure, leaving you with answers and several questions regarding society.
If you’re ready to dive into Everett’s work of art, Wounded: A Novel is available for purchase on Amazon here.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Many of Larry McMurtry’s Novels Have Film Adaptions?
Horseman, Pass By, The Last Picture Show, and Terms of Endearment have all been adapted into films. Lonesome Dove was adapted into a television miniseries. Combined the visual adaptions have 52 nominations and 20 award wins.
What is The Dark Tower Chronological Reading Order
The Gunslinger, The Drawing Of The Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, The Wind Through The Keyhole, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower.
Are Modern Western Novels Similar To Lonesome Dove?
No. Larry McMurtry and Louis L’Amour are more in the traditional sense of westerns. Modern western stories can have elements of fantasy, and sci-fi, and have developed a wide range of protagonist archetypes. However, classical westerns still exist.
What Novels On This List Would You Recommend The Most?
Dustborn is my top choice. Make Me No Grave: A Weird West Novel is another I’d highly recommend. The Gunslinger is another one. I’m staying true to my fantasy roots, but each of the aforementioned novels is worth the read.
Is There A Future For Western Novels?
Absolutely. I could see the genre expanding to more sci-fi elements; themes of exploration and danger are already common in sci-fi. I don’t see why more direct sci-fi elements couldn’t find their way into westerns.
What are the 20 most popular bestselling Western books?
1. To The River’s End by William W. Johnstone
2. True Grit by Charles Portis
3. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
4. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen
5. The Quick and the Dead by Louis L. Amour
6. Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose
7. The Time It Never Rained by Elmer Kelton
8. The Hell Bent Kid by Charles O. Locke
9. Centennial by James A. Michener
10. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
11. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
12. Hombre by Elmore Leonard
13. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
14. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (featured in this article)
15. Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams
16. Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy
17. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
18. The Big Sky by A. B. Guthrie Jr.
19. The Ox-Bow Incident (Modern Library Classics) by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
20. News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles
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