Joe Pickett is a relatively green game warden in Saddlestring in the Twelve Sleep Range, Wyoming. With two young girls and another baby on the way he’s struggling to make ends meet given his meager salary. After he’s disarmed by an outfitter and he lets the incident ride, his unpopular status is added to as a figure of fun. That is only the start of his problems. When his seven year old daughter, Sheridan, claims to have seen a monster in the back yard, Pickett is skeptical. The monster however is the same outfitter that disarmed him. Only he’s now dead. At the camp he’s just ridden from, Pickett, another warden and a deputy find two other hunters shot dead, seemingly killed by another hunter. The case is quickly closed, but Pickett is not satisfied. When he continues to investigate, his life starts to get a whole lot worse.
It took me a little while to get into Open Season. Box writes in short, often flat sentences, and the beginning is spent largely developing the characters and family relations. Gradually the story opens up and the prose becomes a bit more expressive. The strength of Open Season is the sense of place, contextualisation and the plotting. Box does a good job of placing the reader in the mountain and small town landscape of Wyoming, and in framing the work of game wardens and the social politics concerning their work. The plot develops nicely, the tension slowly ratcheting up. It’s clear from quite a long way out that what is going on and who the bad guys are, and that Pickett will ultimately win out, but it matters little; the reader is still kept on the edge of their seat. The characterization is well done, especially with regards to Pickett’s family. Overall, Open Season puts in place a very solid foundation for the rest of the series.