Can a Western Be a Mystery?

Can a western be a mystery?

Why not? We American writers seem to be more obsessed with categorizing stories than our British counterparts. Genre is simply a label attached to a work to give a potential reader an idea what it might be about. But few works of fiction can really be narrowed down to a single label and even experts seem to disagree on the issue.

While we’re familiar with the usual bookstores breakdowns of mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy and so on, the Canadian critic Northrop Frye breaks it down into four even more obtuse categories–novel, romance, anatomy and confession. In his view Moby Dick is defined as an anatomy while Pride and Prejudice is simply a novel and not a romance.

Try asking your neighborhood bookseller for a particular book in Frye’s genres and see what kind of blank look you get.

When I set out to write Geronimo Must Die I was thinking in terms of a traditional western. In strictest terms, a western is a story set in the American Old West, most likely in the 19th century. Yet, the more I got into it, the more I realized it was also a mystery, fiction relating to a crime or disclosure of secrets. There are also elements of romance, humor and action/adventure.

In fact, few novels abide by the definition of a single genre. Most are a mix of several elements. The most important aspects of a novel are characters and a story that will intrigue the reader and keep him/her reading to find out what happens next. I hope I’ve achieved that kind of interest in my novel.

Here’s the blurb for Geronimo Must Die:

Geronimo and rascally half-breed Indian scout Mickey Free have never been friends.

Yet, Mickey has already saved Geronimo’s life twice (without acknowledgement) and is the only one who can keep the great Apache leader out of the sniper’s sights now. The sniper has already murdered several tribal leaders and Mickey believes it’s all a plot to prompt a great runaway from the hated San Carlos reservation.

Mickey’s efforts are stymied by Al Sieber, head of scouts, and John Clum, reservation agent, as well as suspicion of other Indians. Adding to his problems, Mickey is in love with a girl whose name he keeps forgetting to ask and who may be allied to the plot.

Only perseverance, risk to his life and, eventually, Geronimo’s help will enable Mickey to resolve this dangerous situation.

J.R. Lindermuth, a retired newspaper editor, lives and writes in a house built by a man who rode with Buffalo Bill Cody. He has published 16 novels and a non-fiction regional history. His short stories and articles have been published in a variety of magazines. He is a member of International Thriller Writers and is a past vice president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society.



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In addition to Sundown Press at and Amazon, his books are also available from Barnes & Noble and other fine bookstores.






Can a Western Be a Mystery? — 15 Comments

  1. Heck, yes! I’ve written three westerns which include a mystery theme. I took Harriette Austin’s course on writing murder mysteries and adapted it to a western theme. Look for me at America’s bookstore –

  2. John, I completely agree. Most of my favorite westerns have been mysteries. The good guys chase the bad guys but they travel on four legs instead of four wheels and their weapons are Colt .45’s instead of Glock 9mm’s. I plan to begin reading Geronimo Must Die soon, and I know I won’t be disappointed.