So I'm reading Scott Phillips's Cottonwood, and I'm thinking, "This is a western novel." Not exactly an earth-shaking conclusion to reach, I suppose, except that the publisher doesn't want you to know it's a western novel, at least not until you've paid for it. For example, there's one blurb on the front cover, from bestselling crime writer Michael Connelly: "Scott Phillips is dark, dangerous, and important. Cottonwood is crime fiction at its best." There are several blurbs on the back cover, but only one of them is about Cottonwood. It's from another crime biggie, George Pelecanos, and it says, "Cottonwood is an adventurous, bawdy, and genre-bending epic. Scott Phillips cements his reputation as a fearless, ambitious writer who never makes a false move." I guess the western novel is really dead when a highly regarded new writer does one and it's marketed as a crime novel. Or as a "genre-bending epic."
But, see, I don't get that last part. What's so original about Cottonwood? In an interview on The World's Worst Blog, Victor Gischler calls the book a "horror-crime-western." (At least he's not afraid to use the W word.) So what? It's not like there's never been another one. Where was all the hue and cry when Matthew S. Hart (great name, huh?) published The Prisoners, a horror-crime-cannibal-lesbian-vampire western? (OK, I could be wrong about the vampire part. But not the rest.) Here's a book that I contend is as much a genre-bending epic as Cottonwood, but nobody has ever heard of it. Well, almost nobody. So let's take another example: Trevanian's Incident at Twenty-Mile. What about that one?
I know, I know. Marketing. Matthew S. Hart writes a novel that's part of a series about the Texas Rangers, and nobody who buys it knows that he's reading a genre-bending epic. He just thinks it's a really weird book for a series western. And Trevanian? Hey, he hasn't had a bestseller in a long time. Who knows him?
Anyway, doesn't nearly every western ever written have a crime element? Never mind. I'm putting my soap box away for the evening.