Throwback Thursday: ‘Open Season’ by C.J. Box

Full disclosure, I’m a city boy to my core. Like, I don’t even enjoy the zoo because I’m very uncomfortable around animals. I’m the guy, if the crap ever hits the fan, who will be wandering around the woods eating all the wrong berries without any clue how to build a shelter. Yet, for some unexplainable reason, I’m drawn to C.J. Box’s character Joe Pickett like a bear is drawn to honey (I’m not even sure if bears eat honey, that’s how city I am!).

Speaking of the crap hitting the fan, nobody knows more about what that’s like than my man Joe Pickett. Open Season was C.J. Box’s debut novel, and the first in his Joe Pickett franchise that is still going strong after fifteen novels. In fact the sixteenth book, Off The Grid, comes out next Tuesday, March 8th. 

The Story

When I first started reading Open Season (I swear this is true…) I didn’t even know what a game warden was. Thankfully, C.J. Box got me up to speed quickly, and I dove right in, following Joe Pickett–the new game warden in Twelve Sleep, Wyoming–as he struggled to replace a legend. 

Vern Dunnegan was the game warden in Twelve Sleep for a long time, but recently retired to take a better paying job that allowed him the luxury of tasting the finer things in life while he was still young enough to enjoy them. Joe soon finds out that one of the reasons Vern was so beloved in the community is because he was willing to look the other way at times, especially if there was a bribe involved. 

Joe Pickett, though, is as straight of a shooter as the good Lord has ever created. The word “bribe” isn’t even in the man’s vocabulary. He is completely by the book, all the time, no matter what. He wants to be respected by the community, but that becomes much harder once word spreads around town that a poacher Joe tried to ticket was able to steal the young game warden’s work-issued handgun. 

The fact that Joe was able to be disarmed, and the way in which he later explains what happened to his superior who investigates the incident, proves he’s just a regular guy. He is not Jack Reacher with a cowboy hat on. In fact, Joe isn’t intimidating at all. Nor does he possess secret hidden combat skills. He’s a lousy shot, especially with his handgun, and he knows he’s not naturally the fighting type. 

Joe and his wife have two young daughters, and they live paycheck-to-paycheck, just trying to get by like the rest of us. The Picketts, in all honesty, might be the most relatable family of all the thriller series out there. One day, however, their lives are turned upside down when a man dies on the woodpile behind their house. It turns out that the dead man is the same guy who stole Joe’s gun, which complicates things even further. 

Joe can’t seem to accept that Ote Keeley (the poacher who stole his gun) just happened to die on his woodpile by chance or accident. Soon two more bodies are found at a campsite deep in the woods, and the local press dubs the entire situation the “outfitter murders.” Eventually an investigation uncovers enough evidence to close the case, but Joe keeps looking into things on his own–uncovering more evil and corruption than he ever imagined. 

Here’s the thing about Joe… He’s not the smartest guy in the room, at least not most rooms. In that regard, he might be the last person to catch onto what’s really going on–and that includes the reader.

Like an episode of CSI or Monk where they show the crime first and then follow the cast of characters as they put the pieces together, so too will readers figure out who the antagonists of Open Season are. The thrill isn’t uncovering the bad guys, it’s watching Joe put it all together–and trying to figure out what he’ll do about it. 

Why I loved it

I’m fascinated by the Joe Pickett series for a number of reasons. I think on some levels I admire the people that are able to live off the grid, because I know I never could.

The closest I come to living off the grid is when our internet goes out during a winter storm or something. Yet every time I finish one of C.J. Box’s novels, I want to go camping–until I realize I wouldn’t even know where to start with planning a trip like that. Instead, I live my country-boy dream vicariously through my buddy Joe Pickett! 

Why you should read it

Anytime a series lasts for sixteen novels and is still going strong, the author is doing something right. Pickett isn’t your average thriller protagonist, which is refreshing and a ton of fun. Box really knows how to develop his characters and does it better than anyone in the game today. Following this series is like watching young actors grow up on a long-running television show, as everyone ages and grows from book-to-book. 

Book Details 

Author: C.J. Box (Follow on Twitter, Facebook, or his official website)

Pages: 320 (Hardcover)

Publisher: Putnam 

Release Date: July 9, 2001 (Order it here!)

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