Open Season by C.J. Box

Open Season is the first Joe Pickett novel by C.J. Box, and it may have been his debut.

‘When a highpowered bullet hits living flesh, it makes a distinctive – pow-WHOP – sound that is unmistakable even at a tremendous distance.’ And so it begins for Joe Pickett a Wyoming game warden who, with the shot of a rifle, is thrust into a race to not only save an endangered species, but to unravel a mystery that threatens the life and the family he loves.

Joe Pickett is not a new game warden, but he’s new to his job in Saddlestring, Wyoming, and he’s still getting to know the people. The pow-WHOP he hears introduces him to Ote Keeley, a mule deer poacher. His initial confrontation fades to the background, when sometime later Ote is found dead in Joe’s yard. Why was he in Joe’s yard? What was he carrying with him? Who killed him? At the outset, it seems clear that there was some sort of rusting or hijacking or some sort felonious behavior going on among a bunch of Ote’s cohorts at a camp up in the mountains, and that Ote’s death was a result of it. As time goes on, though, inconsistencies with that theory appear to Joe. But no one else really cares or wants to explore further, because that would create more questions. When Joe keeps asking questions, his job is threatened and his family is harmed. Between a high mountain trip that uncovers a killing field and a death bed confession, Joe figures out what is going on and rescues his family and himself.Open Season was a good mystery. I guessed one of the bad guys fairly early on, because he was typecast and because the background laid for him worked with the nefarious deeds that were being committed. The backdrop laid for the mystery itself was good, though. It wasn’t until very close to the end that I understood why Ote Keeley was in Joe’s yard when he died. Box does not include a great deal of description of places or people in his narrative. The language is pretty spare when it comes to adjectives. But the images of behavior are excellent. For example, at one point, Joe is out in the rain, and he has a mental chuckle at the Wyoming bewilderment when presented with rain. Apparently the townpeople are not at all afraid of feet of snow or scorching heat, but no one really knows what to do in the rain, because it is so rare. They are all intimidated by it, so they stay in out of it and don’t use umbrellas or rain gear. Is that an accurate description? I don’t know, but it painted an image that has stuck with me.My only real quibble with Open Season is the over the top evil of the bad guys. Yes, they are bad guys, and they killed people and they threatened a child. But the inappropriate touching of Joe’s daughter and the nasty thoughts one villain had later were just unnecessary and kind of inconsistent with what little we know about this character based on the rest of the narrative. The other bad guy was a caricature of the good guy gone bad, who turned to the dark side after years of good civil-servitude because of the lure of filthy lucre from Evil Corporate America. The uber-villification of the bad guys dropped this book from a B read to a B-.I’m looking forward to the next Joe Pickett book in this series.

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