HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Are you shopping today? Wow, you are brave. Or--are you going to a movie? Or reading? As the most amazing Jon Land points out, there’s a fascinating connection between the two. Especially when it comes to thrillers—and westerns.
Jon is one of the most generous, most talented, and hardest working author in the biz---as well as a brilliant teacher! He’s a USA Today bestselling author of 38 novels, including his Caitlin Strong series—which enthusiastic reviewers have called “modern day westerns.”
You don’t read or watch westerns, you say? Yes, you do. Here’s what Jon has discovered. Check it out…and afterward, tell us your faves, (Or—what you scored on Black Friday!)
THE MODERN DAY WESTERN
By Jon Land
My Caitlin Strong books have often been referred to as modern day westerns. While I’d like to take credit for starting that trend, it goes back far longer than Caitlin and me. Strong (no pun intended!) men with a simple ethos and base nobility in which they stood as the lone hope against bad guys determined to make the world worse for ordinary people. So, in honor of the release of The Magnificent Seven remake, let’s explore some examples of the modern day western that has so influenced the form of the thriller novel in pop culture.
DIRTY HARRY: Clint Eastwood’s seminal, star-making turn as a loner cop breaking all the rules to track down a serial killer. The setting of 1970s San Francisco could just as easily have been the plains roamed by the Man with No Name in the spaghetti westerns in which Clint cut his teeth. Harry Callahan is a character literally defined by his gun, making the .44 Magnum famous as well. A great uncredited rewrite by John Millius turned a simple cop film into a portrait of a modern day gunfighter’s obsession with seeing justice done, ending in identical fashion to the Gary Cooper classic High Noon.
STAR WARS: A “space western” that contains all the staples of the form right down to the villainous gunfighter in black, as personified by Darth Vader, only with a light saber instead of a Colt .45. Add to that Luke Skywalker’s ingénue evolving into a heroic force of good, the blaster-wielding gunslinger in Han Solo, a rescue sequence (a la The Professionals), and a climactic gun battle transposed into outer space. The result draws upon Akira Kurosawa’s western-inspired samurai movies in crafting an industry-changing masterpiece.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN: The purest “postmodern” western on our list, since (in both the book and the exceptionally faithful film adaptation) Tommy Lee Jones’s saintly old-school sheriff never actually confronts Javier Bardem’s twistedly terrifying Anton Chigurh. But the drug deal gone wrong harks back to any number of stagecoach and bank robberies that define so many westerns. And Chigurh’s malevolent menace is reminiscent of every black-clad baddie ever to rampage through the Old West. A creature not so much of the land, as fate itself and thus defined purely in the moment, giving us no idea from where he came or where he’s going next.
JACK REACHER: Okay, Tom Cruise isn’t as big or as bruising as Lee Child’s iconic, nomadic hero who carries only a toothbrush while taming one town, and one book, after another. But Cruise otherwise nails the character’s sensibility to a T. Reacher is a classic western gunfighter, unable to settle down and on a quasi-Quixotic journey to right the wrongs of the world perpetrated on ordinary people like you and I. He vanquishes the bad guys, then mounts a bus instead of a horse to ride on to his next adventure. Not a whole lot different than Paladin from the classic TV western, Have Gun, Will Travel.
Okay, those are my picks. Now, how about yours? Any you’d like to add?
HANK: SO interesting! How about To Kill a Mockingbird? I guess that's not a thriller....
And so delighted, Jon, that you've made your hero a woman!
How abut you, Reds? Are you more western fans or thriller fans? (Or--are you more about shopping today?)
Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of 38 novels, including eight titles in the critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series: Strong Enough to Die, Strong Justice, Strong at the Break, Strong Vengeance, Strong Rain Falling (winner of the 2014 International Book Award and 2013 USA Best Book Award for Mystery-Suspense), Strong Darkness (winner of the 2014 USA Books Best Book Award and the 2015 International Book Award for Thriller and Strong Light of Day which won the 2016 International Book Award for Best Thriller-Adventure, the 2015 Books and Author Award for Best Mystery Thriller, and the 2016 Beverly Hills Book Award for Best Mystery. The latest title in the series is Strong Cold Dead, was published on October 4 and about which Booklist said, “Thrillers don’t get any better than this,” in a starred review. Land has also teamed with multiple New York Times bestselling author Heather Graham on a new sci-fi series, the first of which, The Rising, will be published by Forge in January of 2017. He is a 1979 graduate of Brown University and lives in Providence, Rhode Island.