August 1st, 2012

Red Country is finished!  Or at least my final changes are made.  Page proofs will no doubt appear some time over the coming weeks for a final read through, but basically it’s done.  One always feels one could perhaps do a little more, tweak something here, something there, but the last run through was mostly for tone and word choice and I didn’t make a great number of changes.  Too often found I was just slipping into reading without really concentrating on what could be changed, what could be improved.  Diminishing returns, and production want a manuscript, and so … adieu.

Thought this might be a good time to recommend a few westerns I’ve read and enjoyed, both while working on this book and before, and that have probably had some influence on one part or another of Red Country.  A lot of the influences, perhaps most, have been filmic ones, but I’ll stick to books for now:

Pete Dexter, Deadwood – I suspect the makers of the TV series owe a debt to this offbeat, dark and hilarious telling of the last days of Wild Bill Hickok.

A.B. Guthrie, The Big Sky and The Way West – Great novels of the early west.  Tough and authentic-seeming, it’s hard to believe they were written in the late 40s.

Richard Matheson, Journal of the Gun Years – If you only read one on this list, make it this one.  Very slim, very powerful story of the cost of violence, from the man who brought you I am Legend.  I’d never heard of it before plucking it at random from a bookstore shelf but I’m mighty glad I did.

Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian – The west as hell.  The crazy, unpunctuated biblical style and searing bleakness won’t be for everyone, but you can’t ignore the power.

Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove – Superb stuff.  Tough, moving, packed with memorable characters.  There’s a brilliant TV adaptation as well.

Charles Portis, True Grit – A classic, with brilliant voice and style.

Elmore Leonard, The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard – He’s a master at characterisation, is Leonard, and can sketch a vivid character with a few words of description and a line of dialogue.  I read a couple of his full-length westerns as well (I say full length, they’re barely more than novellas, really) and I thought in the end his stuff worked a lot better short form.  Valdez is Coming is an extension and elaboration of one of the stories in this volume, and he actually takes a fascinating, surprising, and hard edged short story and spins a rather predictable novel out of it.  The shorts are fantastic, though.  Amazing how many memorable characters he produces in these thirty stories, and never seems to be treading the same ground.

Hampton Sides, Blood and Thunder – The only non-fiction I’m putting in here.  Rousing account of the conquest of the west centring on Kit Carson.

I read an awful lot of other stuff too, but these are the ones I’d unreservedly recommend…

Posted in reading by Joe Abercrombie on August 1st, 2012.

37 comments so far

  • Brandon Schutz says:

    Although not a book I feel any look into westerns isn’t complete without watching the good the bad and the ugly. Between the cinematography and brilliant rethinkings of the western genre it redefined what it meant to be a good guy in the age of John Wayne. Many of today’s western clichés through the 80s 90s and modern times were a new concept when leone filmed the famous standoff at the end of the film.

  • bta says:

    Good news – if you’re so engrossed in the reading that finding errors gets forgotten, then it must be a damn good read.

    Re: westerns – have you read “Gone to Texas” by Forrest Carter? It’s the book the film ‘Outlaw Josie Wales’ was based on.

  • Ranma says:

    I’ve never read a western book, but I’ll give it a go now! Thanks for suggesting these books. Your short reviews are really good, they capture the attention.
    I’m looking forward to read the Red Country. It’s going to be great!

  • ColinJ says:

    I just started to read some Louis L’Amour while I was away on a long holiday. I read LAST OF THE BREED and THE WALKING DRUM and they were terrific.

    That Richard Matheson book sounds great. I may have to track that one down. They don’t have it on the Kindle at this stage.

    And I just can’t get into Cormac McCarthy. I know it’s a fault of my own, but I can’t handle his style.

    As for my own recommendations, I recently read a fantastic horror-western novella by Jack Ketchum called THE CROSSINGS. Nightmarish stuff but brilliant. Ketchum can be a bit hit-or-miss but this is one of the best things of his I have read.

  • Adam says:

    Good work! I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy! Hopefully, I’ll have the chance to meet you and get my book signed, when you make an appearance in Adelaide.

  • Michael says:

    Louis L’Amour! What a great name, and very nearly his real one. My dear dad had stacks of these things lying around when I was a kid, but I never read them because there were no wizards or elves.

    I have only read Lonesome Dove from the titles you mention. It has a real sense of rhythm and power. Frontier, big sky, elemental. Blew me away.

  • Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers is a brilliant and off-beat western. Looking forward to Red Country, Joe.

  • FlyMonkey says:

    Is there any inspiration from everybodys favorite western, Red Dead Redemption?

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Brandon Schutz,
    Well, Leone had already done some very similar stuff in A Fistful of Dollars and a Few Dollars more, and a lot of that was adapted from Kurosawa’s samurai films, which were themselves heavily influenced by John Ford. And then John Wayne did play a fair few grey characters – The Searchers, for instance. Good, Bad, Ugly is fantastic, of course, I absolutely love that film, and Eli Wallach in particular, but I guess everything is a development of everything else.

    Yes. Although Red Dead takes so widely from so much it’s hard to know what you’d take from it that you wouldn’t take from something else. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing…

    Yeah, I read the Sisters Brothers and liked it but, I dunno, I found it slightly rambly and lacking in focus, and neither as clever nor as witty as it thought it was, or at least as I’d been led to expect. For me it suffered badly when read right next to something as tight, sharp, lean and stripped-down as Journal of the Gun Years. In the end I much preferred the ‘pulpy’ treatment of the subject matter to the ‘literary’ one, if I can make such a clumsy statement…

  • Stephen Thoms says:

    Hi Joe,

    Not sure if this question has been answered in another thread, apologies if so.

    Are there any plans for any special editions of Red Country – as there was with the short story Waterstones edition of The Heroes?

    Love the books by the way!


  • Aaron Tomey says:

    I actually bought Blood Meridian in June (and No Country For Old Men a few days ago, which is kind of a modern western), so I guess I have some incentive to read it now.
    And I do intend to check out Journal of the Gun Years.
    Thanks you for the recommendations, Joe.

  • Good day Mr. Abercrombie. Suffice to say I’m as excited as a fanboy on new comic day, but I have just a wee question…

    Any chance of proofs going to bookstores again? I work at little Waterstones, and have had my hours so badly cut at the moment, rent and food are a struggle cut again, but really don’t want this to be the first Joe Abercrombie title I don’t get to read straight away.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Yes, the Waterstones hardcover will have a little short story in it.

    Sorry about the woes in bookselling – they weren’t going to do a proof at all to begin with, now I understand they are but it’ll be only 90 copies, so pretty limited numbers. I’ve no idea who’ll get them, sorry…

  • Thanks anyway boss. If you get the chance, mentioning store 666 would be grand 😉

  • Jacob says:


    Everybody stole from Kurosawa it seems…

    That being said, nice recommendation from Richard Matheson. The man is a literary giant and the world of science fiction, fantasy, and horror owe him a great debt that can never be paid.

  • Adam says:

    Wasn’t it another western, The Magnificent Seven, that was adapted from Kurosawa?

    Re, old west America in book and film, Figured I’d recommend a couple of things…

    In film, “The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford,” – damn good film. Probably the best old west era film since “Unforgiven.”

    In lit, the historical account of Pancho Villa’s attack on a small U.S. town following the Mexican revolution and his pursuit by famous American general “Black” Jack Pershing. “The General and The Jaguar,” by Eileen Welsome.

    What’s of partricular interest in this story (aside from America’s tendency to prop up monsters as heroes and have it backfire on us) is how you have this old west setting that suddenly becomes exposed to the output of mass industrialization, as the U.S. pulls out its latest technology in the attempt to track Villa down.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Fistful of Dollars is pretty much an exact remake of Yojimbo, though it does all kinds of different things with setting and cinematography. Both superb films.

  • Ray Z says:

    Have you read ‘Pop. 1280’ by Jim Thompson? A more modern western (early 1900’s) with one of my favorite characters ever written, Sheriff Nick Corey.

  • A-drain says:

    So I’ve only read a few on the list but I’ll pick up the Matheson book. I am Legend is the book you want to read if you want to see were everyone gets their ideas on Zombies (even though the book is not about Zombies).

    Lenord’s voice is amazing. I have that collected westerns book you have and I’ve read a suprising amount of the storys over and over again.

    Does reading all those westerns make you want to go shoot some shit up? Do you/have you go shooting?

    Can’t wait for the book.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    I’ve been shooting in the US, but not nearly so easy in the UK. You have to do it on Red Dead Redemption…

  • Frank Fitzpatrick says:

    Huge western fan, huge.

    Clint Eastward is a God. I recently did a essay for Uni comparing High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider to Shane. Suffice to say, it was pretty much an excuse to sit and revel in the awesomeness of all three films. Shane especially surprised me, a really good piece of film making from the 50’s.

    I also delved into the vastness of Elmore Leonard, ‘The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard’ a year or so ago. Some great short stories in there.

    God this book is going to be heaven for me, mixing one of my favourite genres of films with one of my favourite authors (I’m just fucking with you, you are my favourite).

    You sir, are my hero. Keeping being you, and all the greatness it entails please.

  • Chris Upton says:

    Disappointed there’s no Paint Your Wagon Red references though. I can just imagine the Bloody Nine singing ‘I Was Born Under A Wandering Star.’

  • AntMac says:

    Congratulations Joe, and, thank you, money for copy forthcoming!.

    Next story, what about a Kung Fu theme?.Shenkt walking the wicked world, playing his flute and dispensing wise sayings and arse kickings.


  • Kreso says:

    Looking forward to this so much.

    I gotta say though, Sergio Leone was always #1 for me.

    So my question is, did “spaghetti western” give you any form of inspiration (The Good, The Bad, The Ugly; Once Upon A Time In The West, etc.) or was it purely books?


  • Morgan says:

    A western has so much potential in a fantasy environment so long as you keep the gun-play out of the book. Seriously man, no guns! 😀

  • David says:


    Love the list and thank you so much for sharing. I’ve already requested a few of these from the library. I’ve read three of these books and loved each of them. (Blood Meridian, Lonesome Dove and True Grit)

    Since you’re an avid fan of Red Dead Redemption and having read so many Westerns in a short period of time is there anyway you could write up an essay on the possible inspirations for things in the game? It’d be a fascinating read I’m sure.

  • SwindonNick says:

    Some good recommendations there, thanks. They may keep us going until Red Country slaps on the doormat.
    You have been slightly remiss on the book recommendations of late (one would almost think you had been busy on something, but us regulars know it is computer games and booze!)

  • Alligaroo says:

    Elmer Kelton, especially “The Time It Never Rained” should be required reading for anyone who claims to love westerns. If you’ve never read him, turn in your boots now and leave in barefooted shame until such time as you have rectified your error. Kelton was a master of western literature.
    Robert B. Parker’s three-novel series about Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch (Appaloosa, Brimstone, and Resolution) are quite enjoyable too.

  • Curtis says:

    Thanks for the recomendations Joe, just ordered Deadwood will get to the rest as needed. Cheers.

  • Avery says:

    The recent screen adaption of 3:10 to Yuma with Russel Crow and C. Bale impressed me.

    The gun fights lacked the realism of True Grit. However, the acting and chr. study is remarkable in this film.

  • goober says:

    looking forward to red country.my mums friend gave me a copy of the blade itself a week ago,since then ive practically eaten the rest of your books.thank you and please keep them coming.

  • Robb says:

    Thanks for posting your favorite westerns Joe. I started reading western novels a few years back and I have gained more insight and writing style from them than a lot of other genre’s. Especially Blood Meridian which I have read ten times since last year. The “power” of it is something worth reading and experiencing more than once.

  • Fair point, Joe.

    On a side note, I finished ‘The Heroes’ last night, and now badly need ‘Red Country’ in my life. I’m a little sad that way 🙂

  • Nate says:

    Wished I’d have posted earlier (as this is an older thread), but I’d say everyone should read everything by Cormac McCarthy anyway. Blood Meridian is so brutal it is stunning — I’d say the All the Pretty Horses trilogy is great too. Though not westerns, The Road, No Country for Old Men, and so on capture the same desolate brutality of good westerns.

    I’m very curious, Joe, to hear your favorite westerns of cinema. I wouldn’t say I’m a “western fan”, but Wild Bunch and Once Upon a Time in the West (Henry Fonda as one of the baddest bad guys ever!) are in my top 4 favorite movies of all time.

  • Diego Garcia Cruz says:


    Just downloaded Matheson’s book to my Kindle. You will be held accountable if I don’t like it, so that you know…

  • Seth Zike says:

    I just wanted to say that Elmore Leonard truly is a masterful writer and alongside westerns he has countless brilliant crime stories and I was sad to hear he’d left us

  • Seth Zike says:

    I realize that I’m about five years too late to the conversation, but also I’d like to say that I’m a big fan Joe and that your first book, which I’m currently reading, has influenced my own stories

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