Cowboy Up: Mystery, August 2012

As a genre, the Western has always been closely aligned with romance in my mind. But romance columnist Kristin Ramsdell is right in her discussion of the subject; the influence has drifted into all other genres, creating intriguing new blends. What makes the cowboy mythos so engaging is the code of ethics most cowboys follow. The code means he is probably a maverick (Jack Reacher, anyone?), that he seeks to rectify wrongs (Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino), and that the land must be respected (C.J. Box, of course). The “sagebrush Sherlock Holmes” character—a label once given to Dennis Weaver’s McCloud—rides on. See if you don’t find some mystery cowboys you wouldn’t mind knowing in the list below.

Urban cowboy Often used in police procedurals as a term for a street cop. Wendy Hornsby writes in her newest, The Hanging: “Before Mike made detective, he was an old-time LAPD street cop, a cowboy.”

The private investigator Jaden Terrell’s Nashville-based PI main character is nicknamed Cowboy. Yes, he owns horses and wears a cowboy hat.

Amateur detectives who live on ranches or own horses Lori Armstrong’s Mercy Gunderson and Brad Smith’s Virgil Cain are both mavericks willing to honor a code of ethics no matter the consequences.

Fish and game detectives/agents Cowboys are strong proponents of protecting the land. Perhaps that explains the number of fish and game detectives/agents: Sandi Ault’s Wild series; C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett series; Robert Greer’s Spoon.

The marshal Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series.

The renegade You won’t soon forget the Western-quoting Russian cowboy in Brad Smith’s Crow’s Landing: “He paused. ‘Alan Ladd in Shane. This is great character. At first you think this is wimpy little guy, but later you see he is made of iron. But a man with his time running out. Is very sad to watch. Is symbolic thing. Like the Rooster Cogburn. You know the Rooster Cogburn?’”