The most striking facet about Joe Pickett, the protagonist in CJ Box’s long-running series, is his uniqueness in the crowded crime-fiction genre. He’s a bright light in a world of darkness; a family man, who doubts himself, who doesn’t carry around an aura of invincibility. He’s human. More than that, he’s a game warden in Wyoming, which is another brilliant swerve on established genre tropes; Joe Pickett’s no chain-smoking, drunken, downbeat detective. He’s a man dedicated to maintaining the sanctity of his region, balancing his love for the environment and living off the land with the coldhearted fact of life that such a way of life is becoming increasingly difficult.
The pace of OPEN SEASON is brilliant, though I didn’t recognize it at first. At one point, early on, I questioned its lethargy – things were happening, but not quickly (but never to such a degree I considered putting the novel aside) – but the further I got into the novel, the more I understood its pace to be very deliberate. Box’s narrative is captivating. He shifts focus between Joe and his daughter, Sheridan, and litters the story with a believable supporting cast; from Joe’s disagreeable mother-in-law, to the local sheriff and Wincey, an ex-colleague. All the while, the mystery thickens, and the plot builds, perfectly, to a credible, violent crescendo. I was actually quite upset one a character very close to Joe is shot – a twist I didn’t see coming – and the repercussions of which haunt me, a week after reading the final page. I read a lot of crime novels – very rarely do such moments resonate for such an extended period.
OPEN SEASON is a wonderfully different crime novel. Its characters and setting substantially differentiate it from the rest of the pack, and demonstrate how malleable this genre can be. Crime doesn’t have to be set against the backdrop of a granite cityscape; it lives and breathes out in the open air, too.