In 2001, C.J. Box released his first novel featuring Joe Pickett, a game warden from Twelve Sleep Wyoming. Establishing Pickett as a man with a strong moral compass and fierce devotion to his friends and family, it isn’t hard to see why Box has written nineteen additional stories featuring this classic western archetype.
As an introduction to Joe Pickett, Open Season drops the reader into one of his first days on the job as the new game warden in town. Somewhat bumbling, but with a clear respect for the rule of law above all else, he is not well liked in town. This is to be expected, coming into a tight knit community as the outsider when the previous warden still casts a large shadow in town. Pickett is soon drawn into a murder investigation, when a local outfitter is found dead on his woodpile, and he quickly finds that not everything is as it seems in Twelve Sleep. Through this case, Pickett proves himself a loyal servant of the truth, and makes a few friends that are sure to come back in future installments.
I came to this book after getting deeply into modern western mysteries with Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series last year. There are many parallels between the series, and it is hard not to draw comparisons between the two. Both are set in Wyoming, and feature cowboy hat wearing public servants, who are underpaid but devoted to upholding the law. Despite that similarity though, I had a harder time with Open Season than I did with any of the Longmire series. While the writing in Johnson’s series deals with murder in many of the stories, Box’s approach to action scenes is faster, more brutal, and more visceral. He vividly describes the sounds of a bullet hitting flesh, and at points places the reader in the point of view of a child who is in mortal danger from a stranger. That second point was upsetting to me, and I almost walked away from the book but chose not to out of respect for the character-building work that was present in the novel as well. By way of an introduction to a series, it sets a definite tone. I may step back into the series at a later date, but with greater knowledge of the style of storytelling I should expect.