Open Season (A Joe Pickett Novel), by C. J. Box
This is a good-not-great mystery that started a series of novels involving Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett. Pickett gets a coveted if low-paying job in the small town of Twelve Sleep. He earns less than $30,000 a year but gets free housing. There he settles with his pregnant wife and two daughters.
He hasn’t been on the job long when, while trying to give a ticket to a local outfitter, the outfitter manages to take Pickett’s gun away. This immediately puts a black mark on Pickett’s reputation. It isn’t long after this situation that the outfitter winds up dead near Pickett’s woodpile with a stomach wound and gripping a mysterious cooler with animal scat in the bottom. The mystery deepens when the local sheriff, as well as Pickett’s mentor, are clear that Pickett doesn’t need to look any deeper into the death.
It’s not a bad book but it could have been a lot better in a few different ways. The mystery itself is mostly obvious well before the final reveal. Further, there are a dozen ways in which Box could have enriched the town and its citizens. The book has a dry feel to it as if everyone was just there to move things along. The book is also largely humorless, and humor goes a long way toward lightening the mood in a book about murder and as a filler in between the detection process, as proven by Doyle, Christie, and most other mystery writers of the 20th century.
Another odd part of the book is the thread of information on the Endangered Species Act. That law will have an impact on the story, but there are arguments against the act throughout the book. While the author ultimately seems to support the idea from how the book ends his characters present more antagonistic than positive statements about it.
There are now 18 books in the Pickett series, which you can own on Kindle for the low low price of $182.82. For that amount you could spend a week in a small Wyoming town and have your own immersive experience.
I don’t know whether the author expanded the horizons of this western town in later books, but with a start like this I probably won’t be finding out on my time.