The Western genre has seen a major boom in popularity recently, led in large part by the phenomenally successful TV series “Yellowstone,” and its spin-off “1883.” Yet while the juicy adventures of the Dutton family are no doubt spurring (ahem) much of the current interest in cowboys and horses, plenty of other Westerns are finding their audience as well, including last year’s Oscar-winner “The Power of the Dog,” recent TV shows like “The English” and “Walker: Independence,” and even the record-shattering video game “Red Dead Redemption 2.” And for fans who’d rather experience the West in literary form, there are many great audiobook options to choose from, both new titles and classic favorites. Here’s a rousing roundup of nine Western audiobooks that are worth listening to.
Bones of Paradise
By Jonis Agee
Written by award-winning novelist Jonis Agree, “The Bones of Paradise” is an ambitious multigenerational saga that’s sure to please fans of the Dutton family on “Yellowstone” and “1883.” Combining elements of the Western and the mystery genre, the book uses the unexplained murders of a white rancher and a young Native American woman as a jumping-off point for a look at the dysfunctional Bennett family, whose secretive history is gradually revealed with each passing chapter. Read by audiobook narrator Christina Traister.
By Michael Punke
Published almost two decades after his bestselling Western novel “The Revenant,” Michael Punke’s highly-anticipated follow-up “Ridgeline, was another thrilling treat for genre fans. Set in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, the book focuses on an equally horrific conflict: the battle between the U.S. military and the Native tribes on the western frontier. Blending a vast array of brilliantly drawn fictional characters with notable real-life historic figures, like the revered Lakota chief Red Cloud and the bold warrior Crazy Horse, Punke’s epic novel addresses complex questions about culture and conquest, while providing a rip-roaring read as well. The audiobook is co-narrated by Diné/Omaha/Oglala Lakota actor Tatanka Means (soon to be seen in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon”) and narrator Amanda Stribling.
By Larry McMurtry
The “Moby Dick” of Western novels, and the source material for one of the most famous television miniseries of all time, Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic offers something for everyone. It’s a thrilling adventure, a deeply romantic love story, a sweeping historical epic, a powerful portrait of friendship, and a heartfelt ode to the men and women of the Old West. Although primarily the story of a grueling cattle drive led by two retired Texas Rangers – the taciturn Woodrow Call and the lovable Augustus McCrae – “Lonesome Dove” is populated by dozens of fully-realized supporting characters whose colorful lives and brutal deaths are rendered in unflinching detail. Truly a novel you can get lost in, the audiobook is narrated by actor Lee Horsley, who’s no stranger to Western films and TV shows himself.
Tombstone: The Earp Brothers, Doc Holliday, and the Vendetta Ride from Hell
By Tom Clavin
The notorious 1881 shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Ariz., may have only lasted 30 seconds, but it remains one of the most famous battles in the history of the West. Frequently depicted in films, TV shows, novels and historic paintings, the events surrounding the legendary gunfight have been embellished so often, it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction. But that’s exactly what bestselling author Tom Clavin has done in this painstakingly researched – and evocatively written – work of non-fiction. Even if you’ve seen the classic Kurt Russell movie “Tombstone” a dozen times, Clavin’s book will blow you away with its vivid depiction of life in the wild west. Narrated by award-winning actor and vocal artist Johnny Heller.
By N. Richard Nash
Originally published in 1976, N. Richard Nash’s poignant novel about a lonely, aging rodeo star who crosses the border into Mexico to find his boss’s son was recently made into a movie starring and directed by Clint Eastwood. The book’s tone and ending are considerably different than the film version, but the themes of love, loss, redemption and regret are even more powerful on the page. Many of the greatest Western stories center on broken-down cowboys whose best years are far behind them, and “Cry Macho” is a prime example of that. What sets it apart is the unexpected friendship that gradually develops between the book’s morose main character and the 11-year old boy he’s sent to retrieve. The audio edition is narrated by actor Chris Henry Coffey.
By Louis L’Amour
No list of great Western novels would be complete without at least one title penned by the legendary Louis L’Amour, and “Hondo” is an excellent book to start with if you’re curious about his work. The story of a laconic U.S. Army scout who protects a pioneer woman and her young son during an Apache uprising, it remains one of the author’s best loved tales. Curiously enough, L’Amour’s “Hondo” is actually an expanded version of James Edward Grant’s screenplay for the classic John Wayne film of the same name. Grant’s screenplay, however, was itself a loose adaptation of an early L’Amour short story, so this is a L’Amour novel through and through. Oscar-nominee David Strathairn narrates the audio version.
Valdez is Coming
By Elmore Leonard
Oscar-winner Keith Carradine has appeared in classic Westerns like “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” and “The Long Riders,” as well as the HBO series “Deadwood,” and he narrates this gritty novel about an aging Mexican-American lawman who seeks bloody revenge against a cruel rancher after he’s tricked into killing an innocent man. The basis for a 1971 Western starring Burt Lancaster, “Valdez is Coming” was written by bestselling author Elmore Leonard, and it shows off his stripped-down style and his gift for suspense. Fans of the modern Western TV series “Justified” will feel right at home while listening to this audiobook.
By Robert B. Parker
Famous for his long running Spenser detective novels, Robert B. Parker was also a fine Western writer, and his 2005 novel “Appaloosa” is one of his best. It’s the first in a series of books featuring lawmen Everett Hitch and Virgil Cole, and it chronicles their fight to clean up the dusty title town when a greedy rancher decides to claim it as his own. Filled with Parker’s terse yet punchy dialogue, and loaded with explosive action sequences, “Appaloosa” was adapted for the screen in 2008, and was directed by Ed Harris, who costars along with Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger and Jeremy Irons. The audio edition is narrated by “Bosch” star Titus Welliver, whose fine vocal performance lends the audiobook a genuinely cinematic feel.
The Brave Cowboy
By Edward Abbey
Iconic author and environmental activist Edward Abbey’s second novel, “The Brave Cowboy,” is a literary masterpiece about the contemporary West, and it inspired the classic 1962 Kirk Douglas film “Lonely Are the Brave.” It tells the unforgettable story of Jack Burns, a wandering cowboy who laments his vanishing way of life as modern superhighways slice through the New Mexico landscape he holds dear. When an old friend is sent to jail for refusing to register for the draft, Jack breaks into the jail to free him, but ends up escaping by himself when his buddy refuses to leave. Now a fugitive on the run, Jack finds himself relentlessly pursued by the law, and the escalating manhunt that forms the novel’s final act couldn’t be more gripping. Narrated by actor Keith Sellon-Wright.
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