Joe Pickett is the new game warden in Twelve Sleep, Wyoming, a town where nearly everyone hunts and the game warden--especially one like Joe who won't take bribes or look the other way--is far from popular. When he finds a local hunting outfitter dead, splayed out on the woodpile behind his state-owned home, he takes it personally. There had to be a reason that the outfitter, with whom he's had run-ins before, chose his backyard, his woodpile to die in. Even after the "outfitter murders," as they have been dubbed by the local press after the discovery of the two more bodies, are solved, Joe continues to investigate, uneasy with the easy explanation offered by the local police.
As Joe digs deeper into the murders, he soon discovers that the outfitter brought more than death to his backdoor: he brought Joe an endangered species, thought to be extinct, which is now living in his woodpile. But if word of the existence of this endangered species gets out, it will destroy any chance of InterWest, a multi-national natural gas company, building an oil pipeline that would bring the company billions of dollars across Wyoming, through the mountains and forests of Twelve Sleep. The closer Joe comes to the truth behind the outfitter murders, the endangered species and InterWest, the closer he comes to losing everything he holds dear.
Penzler Pick, July 2001: Mystery debuts are both exciting and problematic. Exciting, because one may always be about to discover the next Hammett or Chandler (or so the copywriters and publicists would have us believe), and problematic because originality in such a well-grooved genre is becoming more and more at a premium.
In advance reviews, Open Season has been pronounced "something special," (Booklist), and it lives up to the billing. It is not C.J. Box's skill at plotting (the story of greedy business interests and local corruption is fine, but familiar), but rather the character of hero Joe Pickett, a Wyoming game warden, that makes this a series kickoff to remember. Like all the best mystery protagonists, Pickett is stubbornly ready to risk everything when his own personal sense of morality is at stake. But Joe is also a guy who sometimes gets things wrong, and this characteristic of messing up adds a dimension of humanity to the book.
C.J. Box makes the town of Twelve Sleep, Wyoming (where Joe and his pregnant wife and his daughters have come to live in a tiny house that could be a lot nicer if Joe only had a job that paid better), come alive to the extent that one can almost smell the crisp mountain air and pine needles. The locals display an impressive array of grudge holding and "don't mess with us" attitudes, but Joe is unwilling to forget he's sworn to uphold and enforce a full battery of laws that many of these neighbors have no intention of obeying.
When a well-known poacher, with whom he has humiliatingly tangled, suddenly turns up dead in his own backyard, Joe finds himself at the top of a downward path that, first, will lead to more bodies and then will put his entire family into peril. Open Season doesn't pull its punches, and Box does allow bad things to happen to good people. Read it and find out how skillfully he handles both his hero's complexities and also the ambiguities inherent in a life dedicated to law enforcement. --Otto Penzler