The first week of the year’s over and now the second week’s nearly over too! These last two weeks have gone by quickly!
This book was part of my “you’ve had it forever, just read it already” list from my 2023 Bookish Resolutions & Goals post. I knew I had plans on reading it by the time this year ended, but I didn’t think it was going to be my first read of the year. I had needed to pick something for my first read and I had nothing. I wasn’t about to fail my other 2023 resolution of “read every day” on day 1, so I ran around my room and picked a book. I just grabbed whatever was out and Open Season was still on my bed from when I randomly picked the 3 (physical) ones to come up with that list for my New Year’s post.
In any case, I’m very glad to have picked this book up. I was able to get started on that 5 priority reads list of mine early!
So, for today’s post: My book review for Open Season by C.J.Box!
The first novel in the #1 New York Times bestselling series featuring Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett–the book that launched one of the biggest, most reliable, and fastest growing franchises in commercial fiction!
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. Even after the discovery of two more bodies, and the resolution of the case by local police, Joe continues to investigate.
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 this rare species gets out, it will destroy any chance of InterWest, a multi-national natural gas company, building an oil pipeline 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.
This book has been sitting on my shelf since I purchased it from an on-sale box in Kmart before the store closed back in 2018. Meaning, this book has been sitting on my shelf, unread, for over 5 years now and while I did get around to it once before, I never made it past the prologue of the book (although, it might’ve been because I was moving at the time). I’ll be honest, I almost DNF’d it a few times, I was just not feeling the book for the first quarter of it, but by the time I finished, I was singing praises for it.
I thought that the book was fairly interesting, even in the beginning. With a starting paragraph revolving around the sound flesh makes when it’s been penetrated by a high-powered rifle bullet, it does have a pretty good hook to it. Something dies and needs immediate investigation seems to ensue. The mystery seems to start right away.
Joe Pickett is a game warden and it’s his job to protect the animals, especially when it’s outside hunting season and poachers are trying sneak around with their work. He’s relatively new on the job, but is an honorable and straight man. Sure, others have successfully gotten away via bribery, but not with Joe Pickett. No sir, he’s not that kind of law enforcer. No bribe and no, he won’t look the other way. If you deserve a ticket, you’re going to get a ticket. He even arrested the governor of Wyoming for fishing without a license (something nobody will ever let him live down)!
The story begins with the death of an outfitter, shot, and who dies on Joe’s property. It’s usually the police’s job to deal with crimes like homicide, but not only does he know this man, but to have had the guy succumb to his wounds in Joe’s very own backyard, this is extra personal. When things get wrapped up too quickly and swept under a rug, Joe takes it upon himself to investigate deeper into the case, sniffing out things that the police had clearly missed previously. However, when he digs too deeply, suddenly his whole life is upturned and everyone he loves is faced with dangers and threats.
My favorite thing about this book are the characters. C.J. Box has an intro (in this edition, at least, ~2016) where he talks about how he picked out Joe’s name, why is the book is set in Wyoming, and about strong female characters and strong female characters we got. Joe’s a huge family man, unlike some of his close friends, who are happy to boast about cheating, such as when Joe walks in on his friend with another woman, despite being married. But Joe? Joe is a good guy and a very loyal husband and a great father. I enjoyed the fact that he isn’t perfect. I’ve seen some cocky cops as well as cops who seem to have stellar records. Well, he has a good handful of items against his reputation by the end (some having recovered though), not to mention how unliked he can be since he simply won’t look the other way.
“In what Joe and Marybeth later called ‘one [sic] his larger bonehead moves,’ Joe had written the wrong date for the appointment with the director in his calendar and simply missed it. When Joe screwed up, he tended to do it massively and publicly.”
Joe’s bogged down by finances (he barely makes $26,000.00 a year) along with the guilt of letting his family down because of this low income, is later further bogged down by the guilt of his involvement in the case and bringing dangers to their front steps, is a bad pistol shot, and makes mistakes that the community quickly knows about. I love a good cop that can sniff out clues like a blood hound and always seems to know what they need to do next, but at the same time, seeing a guy like Joe, who isn’t perfect and constantly anxious about the events in his life, it’s kind of refreshing.
Then there’s his wife, Marybeth, and their two children, Sheridan and Lucy. Marybeth takes care of her family amazingly well. Pregnant, and caring for the two kids, she always sticks by with Joe, despite how rough their situation is. Sheridan, their older daughter, is one of the stars of the show here, having her own POV chapters and being very involved in the case due to what she witnesses and experiences. Multiple times, she’s in such danger that my heart’s at my throat. She’s so brave in this book and is quite smart as well.
I also enjoyed the writing. It’s easy to read and where things are needing description, C.J. Box doesn’t overdo it and the writing flows smoothly. Where things shine the most, like I mentioned before, are the characters. I admire Sheridan and loved her chapters. I especially love how C.J. Box was able to easily switch the narrative tone from the point of view of an adult (Joe) to a child’s (Sheridan). This especially shows during moments when Sheridan’s in danger. I could feel her very real fear and it’s horrifying (it’s absolutely terrifying and I’d throw up if I were in her shoes). Villain wise, they’re written in a way where I almost anticipated who they are very early in the book. These characters just ooze a slimy feeling and you immediately distrust them (and what do you know, I was kind of right, even if I did guess wrong).
Overall, this was a great book and a good start to a new series. When it comes to mystery thrillers, the protagonists, if they are part of the government/law enforcement, I’m generally used to seeing them as spies, FBI, PI, actual police/state agents, forensic scientists, and the such. Now, adding to this mix, we have a game warden, a position I (as someone who lives in the big cities) have never really considered to lead a story. It was a great read that invoked real and helpless fear inside me. I wasn’t so much as focused on the plot itself as I was with keeping track of Joe and Sheridan’s involvement to that plot as well as reading Joe’s despair that he’s let his family down, hard. I’m so used to seeing a seasoned cop, even by the very first installment, that it’s nice to see how green Joe is. I’ve recently reached the end of one of my favorite mystery thriller series, so I’m very interested in seeing where C.J. Box will take our game warden next. Seeing as the series is currently 23 books long, including the upcoming publication for Storm Watch coming out this year (2023), I’m sure this’ll be quite the journey.