Before he became the best writer of crime thrillers in modern times, and one of the best novelists of modern times, Elmore Leonard wrote Westerns. He started out writing Western short stories for the magazines that used to print such things and then in 1953 he published his first Western novel, The Bounty Hunters, which I just read.
Although it was his first novel in any genre, it possesses most of the virtues of his later works — a taut, suspenseful plot, eccentric characters, startling episodes of violence, creepy villains and a protagonist who's cool but not too virtuous. It's invested with a strong sense of place, in this instance the Arizona Territory and Mexico, and the prose is spare but lively. The story moves.
The tale reworks a lot of familiar Western conventions, as most Westerns do — that's part of the challenge of genre fiction. One can see elements borrowed from Western movies and given a harder, sharper edge.
It's a fine piece of writing and a superbly entertaining read.
I'm going to go back now and read all the short stories Leonard wrote before The Bounty Hunters, and then proceed on to everything he wrote in the Western genre. Having read most of his contemporary thrillers, I feel as though I've discovered a brand new author. There are reports that he's thinking of writing a new Western. I hope it's true, because it would be fascinating to see how he'd approach his first love after achieving mastery and fame with other kinds of material.
Come on, Elmore — let's go to Missouri.