Jonathan Ashley is the author of Out of Mercy, from 280 Steps, which was published in 2015.
Brian Lindenmuth: Why a western?
Jonathan Ashley: Really the book is a western thematically, not in any other sense. I always had fun thinking of it as a Western in terms of a thinly veiled indictment on Western culture, of our values and our proclaimed principles versus the idols we really worship. The book takes place in Kentucky which traditionally is not considered the West. I still believe that it fits appropriately into the genre because of the classic themes and the shameless homage the novel pays to better writers than me like Oakley Hall and Elmore Leonard and Cormac McCarthy.
Why did Out of Mercy have to be a western?
Because half of my favorite novels are westerns. I grew up watching western movies with my father. My old man was obsessed with the old west. He learned how to do leather work on Saddles and pistol holsters and he even had a cowboy room in one of our houses growing up with pictures of Clint Eastwood and Marlon Brando in full Gunslinger regalia adorning the walls above custom made gun belts. The novel is appropriately dedicated to my father.
There is an idea that westerns are just crime fiction in a historical setting, do you believe this to be true?
I believe all fiction that matters, all great American books are simply crime novels in disguise because our nation was founded by the unscrupulous. Men whose greed knew no boundaries.
What is your favorite western movie?
It’s a tie between Unforgiven and Warlock
What is your favorite western novel?
Warlock, the wonderful and largely unheralded masterwork by Oakley Hall.
Who is your favorite western writer?
Elmore Leonard. He’s proof of what we discussed earlier, except vice versa. His crime novels are simply modern westerns. His first half dozen novels and almost all his short stories are westerns.
What do you most value in the fiction you love?
Tight plotting, unexpected humor, and well choreographed violence.
Who is your favorite violent western character?
The leader of The Sisters Brothers, the brains behind the hitman duo.
Is the western genre dead, dying, in a state of disrepair, or doing just fine?
We might very well be witnessing a complete overhaul of the genre, with guys like Tom Franklin and Ron Hansen. We are writing westerns for the thinking man and at greater volume than any other literary era of which I’m aware.
Then/Now/Next: what book did you read last, what book are you reading now, and what book will you read next?
I just finished Ken Bruen’s final Jack Taylor novel, The Emerald Lie, which was an emotional experience for me. Ken has really championed my work and I taught myself how to structure a crime novel my own way with the Taylor novels as my road maps. I knew I was incapable of penning a traditional mystery or thriller and Bruen taught me that my inability to adhere to a formula is not necessarily a curse. I wept at the last line of Jack’s final misadventure. I’m currently reading Pike by Benjamin Whitmer. Another stand up guy who has helped me in so many ways. It’s my third reading of his first novel and I sweat the book has hit my top ten list. Next, I’m reading The Cowboys by Joseph Wambaugh, the game changing police procedural written by a true detective. I’m hoping it will inform the book I’m working now in which three very damaged Louisville cops risk their careers and freedom to expose a statewide ring of political and law enforcement corruption.
What was the last great western that you consumed (watched or read)?
I watch Unforgiven once every few months and it has yet to bore me for a moment. Absolutely perfect film.
Bio: Jonathan Ashley is the author of Out of Mercy and The Cost of Doing Business. His work has appeared in Crime Factory, A Twist of Noir, LEO Weekly, Kentucky Magazine and Yellow Mama.
He lives in Lexington, KY.