It is possible I might have enjoyed this book more if I had not read it such a short time after James Lee Burke’s The Glass Rainbow; but with Burke – his vivid. intense prose style, the vividness of his characters and the moral bleakness of the world they navigate – fresh in mind, C.J. Box’ first novel fell decidedly flat for me.
It does, however, start out on an interesting premise – set in a rural area of the United States (and thus, although it is Wyoming rather than Louisiana, again inviting comparison to Burke), it features what certainly must be one of the more interesting protagonists in US crime fiction. Not just because of his profession (he is a game warden) but because Joe Pickett is such a thoroughly average guy – he is married with two kids, would much prefer being left in peace to having to hunt criminals, is frustrated because his job is paying barely enough to make a decent living, generally worries a lot – and not without reason, as he has a proven knack for messing things up spectacularly.
Joe Pickett is a very likeable protagonist (maybe even a bit too much so to feel entirely true) and his very averageness makes him stand out among fictional detectives. But while its hero is Open Season‘s biggest asset, he is also in a way its greatest problem. It is almost as if his character was bleeding through and affecting every other aspect of the novel – the language is bland, his nature descriptions (again, a huge contrast to Burke) unimaginative, his secondary characters cardboard, and the mystery stops being mysterious at about a quarter into the novel. In short, Open Season, while not exactly horrible, ends up being a decidedly mediocre novel, and for the most part I found it rather a slog to get through. Tension does mount a bit in the finale, but that was too few too late, and did not make much of a dent into the overall impression of boredom.