Everyone’s heard of Louis L’Amour. It seems like most “best western” conversations begin and end with him, although you might hear a mention of Max Brand or Riders of the Purple Sage. But there are scads of additional western writers, and there’s lots of great stuff out there hidden amongst the dreck. The trick is finding a guide to it.
A good place to start might be the new book by Scott Harris and Paul Bishop, 52 Weeks 52 Western Novels: Old Favorites and New Discoveries. In it, Harris and Bishop and a handful of other contributors discuss overlooked westerns of excellence. They don’t waste your time by giving a two-page spread to stuff you know about, like Lonesome Dove. They do dig deep into the L’Amour catalog to point out a couple of strong ones, but mostly they present things you probably aren’t aware of. It’s the kind of list Chris Hocking and I have been looking for.