A novelist, short-story writer and poet, Connell was the author of 17 books. His best-known novels were "Mrs. Bridge" (1959) and "Mr. Bridge" (1969), intersecting tales about the stunted lives of a Kansas City lawyer and his wife.
Washington Post reviewer Webster Schott called "Mr. Bridge" a "tour de force of contemporary American realism, a beautiful work of fiction."
Connell was perhaps best known for "Son of the Morning Star" (1984), about the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn in which Indian warriors wiped out Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his 250 men.
"More significant men of his time can be discussed without passion because they are inextricably woven into a tapestry of the past, but this hotspur refuses to die. He stands forever on that dusty Montana slope," he wrote.
"Son of the Morning Star" became a best seller, drew critical acclaim and was made into an ABC television mini-series. Time magazine named it one of the best books of the 1980s.
A writer who was hard to categorize, Connell also wrote about the life of a Navy pilot, which he had been in World War Two; medieval alchemy; the Crusades; and the inner life of a rapist.
In 2010 Connell was awarded the Robert Kirsch Award, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, for "a living author with a substantial connection to the American West, whose contribution to American letters deserves special recognition."
He was nominated in 2009 for the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement.