Lawless Center
Photo of Las Vegas by Roadsidepictures used under a Creative Commons license.

Walter van Tilburg Clark, The Ox-Bow Incident (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1962).
A Western set in and around the (fictional) cow town of Bridger’s Wells, Nevada, and taking place in one long day in 1885. A boy from a ranch outside town arrives in a cloud of dust with the news that rustlers have killed a cowboy named Kinkead. The sheriff is away, and there is little appetite to wait for the law to act so a posse forms and sets out after the rustlers. A novel that works as a story and also as a parable about what happens when men take the law into their own hands. First published in 1940 and made into a 1943 movie.

Wikipedia has a brief bio of Clark. The Nevada Writers Hall of Fame at University of Nevada – Reno has a short bio and a long bibliography. Writing about the book are Jonathan Yardley, Melissa Howard, Bryan R. Terry, and Willa. Law professor Robert Louis Felix writes about the book and the film in Legal Studies Forum.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Days of 76
Photo of the 2007 Days of ’76 parade in Deadwood by Brooke~n~Todd used under a Creative Commons license.

Pete Dexter, Deadwood (Vintage, 2005).
In 1876, Wild Bill Hickok and Charley Utter rode into Deadwood, a little frontier town in the Black Hills of what was then the Dakota Territories, now South Dakota. Dexter’s 1986 novel is a tale of those next few months and of Hickok, Utter, Calamity Jane, and a town-full of other colorful characters. I wouldn’t call this a Western, since there’s more emphasis on character and offbeat humor, but maybe it’s just that Dexter is a better writer than most. Action is not exactly lacking; for example, it’s hardly a spoiler to mention that Hickok meets an untimely demise. So think of it as a literary Western. (N.B. — Some will tell you that this novel was the source of HBO’s miniseries, but others will tell you it isn’t true. Dexter’s book was credited as a source for the 1995 movie, Wild Bill.)

Steve Volk explains why Dexter is a legend in Philadelphia. The University of South Dakota takes credit for him too. The best discussion I can find of the book on the interwebs are these two posts by Whiskey Prajer, parts one and two. Time reviewed it in 1986. George Pelecanos recommends it. And Cindi Wafstet and Caitlin blog about Calamity Jane.

Buy it at Amazon.com.