In The Best of the West: An Anthology of Classic Writing From The American West, a wide-ranging volume of Western ”odds and ends,” best-selling novelist Tony Hillerman (Coyote Waits, A Thief of Time) throws a wide loop to corral the old standbys — cowboys, miners, whores, and hosses — as well as the offbeat and the unfamiliar — New Mexico’s Mystery Stone, which contains an inscription supposedly written by a Greek sailor in 500 B.C., and a moving letter by a 14-year-old girl who survived the Donner party’s disastrous 1846 trek that resulted in cannibalism.
Some of these ”best,” though, are barely readable newspaper accounts and dry summaries of such famous episodes in pulp history as Dodge City’s 1881 gunfight at the O.K. Corral and Wyoming’s Johnson County war between cattle barons and farmers. And despite Hillerman’s obvious sympathies for the tragic history of Native Americans, there is little here from Native American writers, or, for that matter, from Hispanic, Asian, or African-American writers. Hillerman’s West turns out to be primarily Anglo-Saxon rather than pluralistic and multicultural. Still, anybody who enjoys a bowl of slumgullion stew can find something tasty in this campfire collection. B