Whenever I talk about Dick Francis either here on the blog or in the real world someone usually comments that they don’t read Francis because they’re not interested in horses/racing. I always feel sorry for those people because they’re missing out on some great story telling through being unable (or unwilling) to get past a mental road block. For that reason I’ve always tried not to make that kind of judgement about any writer or series which is why I grabbed a book featuring a game warden as its protagonist when I saw it at the library. What I know (or care) about hunting, fishing etc could be written in large font on the back of a shopping docket but I had enough faith in author C J Box (and frequent recommender Maxine) to give it a go. Happily for me Box’s character development and storytelling skills shone through and I found it didn’t much matter that a subject this city girl isn’t terribly interested in was at the heart of the novel.
The story revolves around Joe Pickett, newly promoted to the position of game warden for the town of Twelve Sleep Wyoming and its surrounding environment. Joe is a young-ish man, married with two kids and another on the way who adores his job but worries about its ability to support his family. The job doesn’t pay very well and the accommodation it provides is basic to say the least. But Joe, unlike his mentor and predecessor, is not open to any of the opportunities for corruption that a man in his position might be tempted by. He just wants to look after his family and the environment that has been placed in his care and it would be a hard-hearted reader who didn’t find Joe a likable and sympathetic character.
As the novel opens Joe has an altercation over a hunting permit with an outfitter* named Ote Keely which doesn’t go Joe’s way. A short time later Keeley’s body is found in the woodpile in Joe’s backyard and Joe, another warden and a state trooper have to trek deep into the woods to follow a lead. This is where things start to go a little pear-shaped for Joe, as he is the lone voice caring that all is not as it seems. The story then takes a twist to involve the potential identification and subsequent need to protect an endangered species which showcases another of Box’s excellent talents. Rather than hitting readers over the head with any kind of message regarding this theme Box presents all sides of the argument in an engaging and thought-provoking way, while still managing to show his deep love of the countryside and environment of his native state. A lot of other authors could take lessons from Box’s ‘showing not telling’ skills.
There are some other fine characters in the book, on both sides of the law, with the character of Joe’s eldest daughter Sheridan a real highlight for me. Writing children into stories credibly is not easy but Box has captured the fears and wilfulness of her age perfectly. I remember good juvenile characters in one of Box’s standalones, Blue Heaven, so this is clearly a strength for him.
I did think the story grew a little predictable in parts but my only real gripe was the ending which fell into the category that in my head is classed as ‘American’. It’s the action-packed, violence-filled, everyone-in-peril kind of ending that I find spoils a lot of good books, though I assume I am in the minority because the same endings keep getting written, regardless of how little they fit with the rest of the tale. Overall though I thought Open Season was a great read and I am keen to read more of the series (in fact I have another early title awaiting me on my eReader).
*I’ve still only got a very vague idea what this is…not a term in common use here in Oz.
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It was the review of Open Season at Petrona that prompted me to grab the book in the first place.
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My rating 3.5/5
Publisher GP Putnam’s Sons 
Length 293 pages
Format hard cover
Book Series #1 in the Joe Pickett series
Source Borrowed it from the library