Post by benedictjjones on Jan 18, 2017 10:22:45 GMT
Hello, sorry if this has been raised before!
I'm a huge western fan (both films and books) and have even written a few of my own. A few years back I found the old "piccadilly cowboy" covers hugely inspirational BUT of the books themselves I wasn't that impressed. I felt that they were a bit "cardboard" in nature and their depiction of the old west (yes, I realise a lot of them were written through a "spaghetti lens" of a west that probably never existed).
My main question is - if you had to pick a handful of the old Brit westerns (say a maximum of five) to really showcase the subgenre in terms of writing, story, originality etc what would they be??
To be honest, Ben, I don't think British westerns are a patch on the Americans, simply because it's their history, their genre, and they know it backwards. Brit westerns have always suffered by comparison. I guess the best - in terms of being the best written and most authentic - are the Sudden westerns, which Oliver Strange started in the 30's, and were then continued by Frederick H Christian (Fred Nolan) after Strange died. Both men had a real love of the west, and could write a bit. JT Edson is as authentic as they come, but he's very idiosyncratic and typical of no-one else at all! The Piccadilly Cowboys of the 70's and 80's were more influenced by Spag Western movies than anything else; at least, that's how it seems to me.
Brit westerns were for years known by the Americans as flying coyote westerns because of their lack of authenticity. The term comes from one of the few westerns penned by John Creasey, who had a coyote fly past some of his characters, under the impression that a coyote was a bird. (it's always possible that he just got it confused with a roadrunner...)
Post by franklinmarsh on Jan 18, 2017 13:14:32 GMT
I do still love the PC westerns - at 125 pages they can seem unsatisfying, but often, as the lads were churning these out at the rate of one or two a month, the occasional desperate search for something to write about leads to some amusement such as Herne The Hunter : Texas Massacre which is a backwoods horror story featuring a likeness of Sir Christopher Lee on the cover, an Apache volume which owes something to Moby Dick and Edge : Rhapsody In Red in which George G Gilman (Terry Harknett) parodied the Rolling Stones at Altamont. Jubal Cade 3 is stark staring mad. And most of them are filled with character names that are references to either people within their circle or figures from popular culture.
Oh, they're fun for sure, it's just that they exist in some universe that has only the slightest connection to yer actual old west and the Zane Gray's of this world. Put Herne, Crow and Edge next to Louis L'Amour and it's like putting and exploitation movie next to John Ford - you enjoy the exploitation movie, but you don't expect veracity!
Depends what you mean by 'literary'. All the PC westerns are at least competently written - they tell a story, they're coherent, and when the writing is very good it carries the story, and you only realise it's good writing after the event. Sometimes they have depth, too, but at 125pp there's no time for that when your brief is an action story. Harvey, James, Harknett, Wells et al were good writers, but they weren't going for a Nobel. Come to that, most 'literature' is self-conscious to a degree that the best written commercial fiction could never be: 'look at this, it's good writing, innit?' is always going to obscure a story, which is what commercial fiction can never allow (and rightly, for me).
If you mean are there any Brit westerns that have an authentic sense of time and place and national character that runs deeper than the action and the plot, then no. If you mean are there any that are worth reading as they have some sense of character, plot and pacing, then yes - most of the PC westerns and many others still published by Hale are. But they're not on a par with the Americans as regards their authenticity and authority on the subject.
'Literary' is a loaded term depending on who uses it. I tend to think of it as 'is this book about 'being' a book rather than telling its story?'.
Post by benedictjjones on Jan 18, 2017 15:41:03 GMT
You're dead right about the term "literary" and it was one I was loath to use. I think you detailed what I meant more fully; well written, engaging plot and characters, and a bit of depth in regards to the historical situation and setting.
And you're right the length affects the depth I suppose.
I have collected and read most of the Brit-Westerns, and the quality varies indeed. The later ones are naturally not as good as the earlier ones. And Laurence James sure was a different writer in his approach as Angus Wells (who wrote the most cartoonish of the books IMHO). I think later Harvey's are indeed more literary then James - it is interesting how he works on his writing, especially if you compare it with his later crime novels - , but that may be a matter of taste.
As far as historical details are concerned, I wouldn't say that all are too Italo-Western. For instance "Gringos" is an interesting and successful take on the mexican revolution, even if it is a rip-off of "The Wild Bunch". And "Herne" utilizes historic western characters quite well, even if the violence is turned up to 11.
There are quite a few gems. "Herne 5 Apache Squaw" by James has a jaw-dropping ending which beats a lot of horror novels in its grimness, if I remember correctly. The already mentioned "Texas Massacre" is a lot of fun. A lot of Edge novels come to mind, especially the more surreal ones like "Eve of Evil", the christmas story. No doubt that especially Edge is more a parody of the genre.
Any Brit Western loving Vaulter within a Winchester's range of Brighton might like to be advised that Raining Books on Trafalgar Street currently has quite a stack of the things. They're not in collector's condition admittedly but anyone just looking for reading copies for research purposes might find the variety on offer useful.
I have a fairly large collection of British westerns, mainly PC and Black Horse. Indeed, my first exposure to western novels were the Black Horse westerns my grandmother would regularly loan from our local library. I would agree that US westerns, in general, have a higher degree of authenticity than their UK counterparts. However, so long as a novel is not glaringly inauthentic, I am not unduly bothered that UK westerns are less "real" than westerns by American writers. What I look for in a western is entertainment. I realise that in the limited word count of the typical PC/Black Horse western, character development and depth will be limited, but I am willing to accept that as I find what these books lack in those areas is more than made up by the sheer amount of entertainment and enjoyment I get from them. I like the fast-paced, 125-160 page length that is typical of PC and Black Horse westerns. I would say that John Harvey is the most "literary" of the PC authors, though "literary" is not really a term I like to use. I much prefer that I judge these kinds of books by how much enjoyment I get from them. I do tend to like the more violent books in the genre, so I find that Laurence James and Angus Wells are among my favourite writers, though John Harvey certainly has his moments of brutality as well. A previous poster mentioned the Herne the Hunter novels Apache Squaw and Texas Massacre, and I would echo what has already been said about them. If you like your "heroes" to be mean SoBs, I would recommend trying one of the Crow series by James W. Marvin--Crow is probably the meanest of the PC characters, with the Angel and Hart the Regulator series being at the other end of the spectrum--though still violent series, they are not quite up there with the most brutal examples. Black Horse westerns are more "traditional" in their depiction of the west, in that sex and violence is toned down quite a bit when compared to a typical PC example. They are short and easy to read, but, in my opinion, very entertaining. There is also the advantage that most libraries have a good stock of them, libraries being the main buyer for the books.
I think that just about nails it, Rip - the shorter books concentrate on thrills, pace and action as that's what they're there for - and they do it well. You can't ask for me in any book than that it does what it sets out to do.
Harking back to the two Herne novels, Apache Squaw and Texas Massacre, I would also like to put in a word for number 3 in the series, The Black Widow, as an example of 70s PC westerns.
Herne is still tracking the men who violated his wife and led to her suicide and he has Becky Yates with him, whose mother was murdered by the same gang and is now an orphan. The setting is winter with lots of snow and a remote castle-type building in which two of the gang, their mother and servants and bodyguards reside. Lawrence James wrote this one and he fills the book with action, quirky characters and hints of perversion. For instance, there is a suggestion that the mother and one of her sons are lovers. Two of the servants, the butler and cook, appear to be refugees from Upstairs, Downstairs (a typical James touch). Herne's one-time friend, the albino Whitey Coburn, now hunting Herne for a bounty, turns up and they team up for an attack on the castle after Coburn's partners turn on him. This is one of my favourite Herne's, and one of my favourite of all PC westerns. I think Laurence James and John Harvey shared writing duties, with James doing odd numbers and Harvey the even ones, and reading a few in sequence really shows the two authors' differing styles.