Lately I’ve been hooked on the C. J. Box series set in Wyoming, which read like a modern day western. I’m up to the fourth book, Trophy Hunt, and I still find myself enjoying not only the mystery as it is plotted, but also Box’s ability to describe the West as it really is with the quickly changing weather patterns, the creeks, canyons and animals. He does this through his main character Joe Pickett, who is a game warden in a state with more antelope than people. Joe is a family man with children, something you don’t see too often in hard-boiled mysteries. Some of the murders are gruesome, but it does remind us that man, too, is an animal. The series began in 2001 with Open Season.
Nevada Barr is another author I consider a Western writer. Her main character, Anna Pigeon, works as a kind of police officer for the National Park Service. She travels from park to park from the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas to Mesa Verde in Colorado to Glacier National Park in Montana. She includes other parks east of the Mississippi River and her latest book, Borderline, actually takes place in the big city of New Orleans. She is mostly a loner, who lost a husband early in life and marries again later in the series. Her mysteries involve the landscapes of the parks, where she is assigned, and they often give you insights into the world of the National Park system. Her first book in the series is Track of the Cat published in 1993.
If you enjoy a lighter outlook on city life in the West, I recommend William Bernhardt with his legal thrillers set in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Bernhardt airs his concern about legal topics by introducing Ben Kincaid, a lawyer of lost causes. He seems like a bungler, but overcomes many legal obstacles and wins his cases, which involve everything from capital punishment to hate crimes and from child abuse to environmental concerns. There are many books in the series, which began in 1991 with Primary Justice.
Diane Mott Davidson sets her amateur sleuth Goldy Schulz in a small mountain town near Denver, Colorado starting with Catering to Nobody (1990). Goldy is starting a new catering business after divorcing an abusive husband. She has an awkward, yet charming eleven-year-old son Arch, who often steals the show. It doesn’t hurt her sleuthing that she later marries the local sheriff. Although I’m not a big fan of cozies, these are better than most and they include the catering recipes. Time goes slowly in this series. It takes eight books for Arch to age four years.
For those of you who like psychological mysteries, you may want to try Stephen White’s series set in Boulder, Colorado. Boulder is a college town near Denver and White’s character Alan Gregory has a practice there. My husband likes this series (more than I do), because Gregory is a fallible every man, steadfast and loyal to those close to him. He is a soft-boiled hero that rather clumsily gets to the answers through his people skills and his training as a clinical psychologist. This series also begins in 1991 with Privileged Information.
There are numerous mystery series set in California, and J. A. Jance has two series set in Arizona, both of which beg for more disclosure in future articles. But these five should keep you busy for a while.