Reading the Joe Pickett books in order is a delight for fans of Western mystery thrillers. This series by C.J. Box unfolds across the beautiful state of Wyoming, which is contrasted by the grisly murders Joe Pickett must solve. That dichotomy of beauty and murder has also recently been adapted into a TV show.
Joe Pickett’s character endears both readers and viewers alike. He is a determined man with a resolute moral code. He’ll do what is right no matter the personal cost, which is equal parts aggravating and captivating.
There have only been two seasons of the adaptation so far, but there are more than 20 Joe Pickett books in order to enjoy.
Who is C.J. Box?
C.J. Box is the bestselling author of more than 30 books, and most well-known for the Joe Pickett series. If you would like to learn more about his entire bibliography you can read this article about all the C.J. Box books in order.
Box has won numerous awards including the Edgar award, the Anthony, the Macavity, two Barry Awards, and more. He has also won the Western Heritage Award for Literature by the National Cowboy Museum in 2016 and the Spur Award from Western Writers of America for Best Contemporary Novel.
Collectively, his novels have been translated into 27 languages with more than ten million copies sold internationally. There have also been two adaptations of his books, ABC’s Big Sky and Spectrum Original’s Joe Pickett, with Box working as an executive producer on both.
All of C.J. Box’s books take place in the western US and feature the picturesque landscape of those states. Box pulls from his own lived experience in depicting this scenery as a Wyoming native.
Before he became an author, Box worked as a ranch hand, surveyor, fishing guide, journalist, and more. Those skills and attributes are apparent in many of his characters.
Box currently lives on a ranch in Wyoming with his wife Laurie. They have three daughters and two grandchildren.
In What Order Should You Read the Joe Pickett Books?
It is not necessary to read the Joe Pickett books in order; however, it is recommended. That is because in reading the books in order of publication you will follow the progression and development of Joe Pickett and his family.
While each book’s mystery will be solved by its conclusion, those experiences shape Joe and that development is apparent as the series progresses. There are also recurring themes and characters throughout the series. It will make the most sense if you follow the chronological evolution of the plot and Joe’s world by following the publication order of the series.
Finally, if you choose to read the Joe Pickett books out of order, you may encounter spoilers for previous books. So, when you get around to reading those earlier books, the anticipation and intrigue will be lessened by already knowing about the mystery which took place.
Joe Pickett Books in Order
As previously mentioned, C.J. Box’s most popular series is about Joe Pickett. This is also Box’s longest-running series and his debut.
The series introduces Joe Pickett as the unpopular new game warden in the small town of Twelve Sleep, Wyoming. Joe is a resolute character who won’t accept bribes from the local townsfolk. So, when he finds a local hunting outfitter dead on the woodpile outside his home, he takes it personally.
As the case increases with more bodies and grows increasingly murkier, Joe continues to investigate, unwilling to accept the explanation from the local police. This determination and grit continues throughout the series with Joe being steadfast in his pursuit of justice.
- Open Season (2001)
- Savage Run (2002)
- Winterkill (2003)
- Trophy Hunt (2004)
Dull Knife (2005, Short Story in Shots Fired)
- Out of Range (2005)
- In Plain Sight (2006)
- Free Fire (2007)
- Blood Trail (2008)
- Below Zero (2009)
- Nowhere to Run (2010)
The Master Falconer (2011, Short Story in Shots Fired)
- Cold Wind (2011)
- Force of Nature (2012)
- Breaking Point (2013)
- Stone Cold (2013)
Shots Fired (2014, Short story collection)
- Endangered (2015)
- Off The Grid (2016)
- Vicious Circle (2017)
Honor & … (2017) – Features Sandra Brown’s Lee Coburn from her novel Lethal.
- The Disappeared (2018)
- Wolf Pack (2019)
- Long Range (2020)
- Dark Sky (2021)
- Shadows Reel (2022)
- Storm Watch (2023)
- Three-Inch Teeth (Expected: February 27, 2024)
Does the Joe Pickett Series Follow the Books?
In December 2021, a Joe Pickett adaptation finally premiered. Fans of the books will be relieved to know that the author C.J. Box is an executive producer on the TV show.
That’s because Box has already pulled the plug on one adaptation when he was not happy with the direction of the show. So, rest assured that with Box’s presence, the Joe Pickett show stays relatively true to the source material.
It is produced by Spectrum Originals and Paramount TV. It stars Michael Dorman as Joe, Julianna Guill as his wife Marybeth, and Mustafa Speaks as Nate Romanowski.
The first season premiered as Spectrum’s most watched series ever, which led to a very quick renewal for another season. That second season premiered in June 2023. It has not been renewed for a third season yet, but there is still the possibility of a renewal with a late 2024 or early 2025 release.
Which book is Season 2 of Joe Pickett based on?
The first season of Joe Pickett was an adaptation that merged two books: Open Season and Winterkill. Those are the first and third books within the series.
Then, the second season focused on just one C.J. Box book, which was Blood Trail. This is a big jump in the publication order to the eighth book in the series.
This means the show is not adapting the books in order of publication or chronology. Instead, the focus seems to be on the books which delve deepest into Pickett’s character. This makes sense for a TV show, in which the primary goal is usually to introduce and endear the audience to the characters as quickly as possible.
It is not known what book the creative team is hoping to adapt next.
Summary of Joe Pickett Books in Order
Even with a list of the Joe Pickett books in order, you may be curious to learn a little bit more about the series and its main character. Below are summaries for each book within the Joe Pickett series. This will be perfect if you’re trying to remember where you last left off or want a more detailed description of each book before you commit.
However, if you haven’t read the Joe Pickett books in order before, be forewarned that as the series progresses the summaries below will contain spoilers for previous installments.
1. Open Season
Joe Pickett discovers a local hunter dead, stretched out on the woodpile outside his state-owned home. There had to be a reason why the outfitter, with whom he’d had previous run-ins, decided to die in his garden. Later more bodies turn up, and Joe isn’t happy with the simple explanation local police provide.
As Joe investigates the killings, he learns that the outfitter brought him more than death. He also brought a rare species that is allegedly extinct, yet now is living in his woodpile. However, if the information of the presence of this endangered species comes out, it would kill any hope of InterWest, a multi-national natural gas firm, building an oil pipeline across Wyoming, that would earn the business billions of dollars.
Joe is getting closer to discovering the truth about the outfitter killings, the endangered species, and InterWest, but he’s also getting closer to losing everything he cares about.
2. Savage Run
When a big explosion happens deep inside the forests of Twelve Sleep County, and an environmental activist appears to have died in the blast, Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett is brought in to assist with the investigation.
The case is quickly closed and described as a botched environmental publicity effort, but Joe isn’t so easily convinced. He quickly uncovers evidence of a deadly plot, which will put his guts, survival abilities, and drive to do the right thing at all costs to the test.
When Joe’s beloved foster daughter is kidnapped, his search for the perpetrator takes a terrifying turn into the rocky mountains that surrounds the snow-covered village of Saddlestring.
Now he is in the forest edging Battle Mountain with a flintlock in his right hand, his truck’s helm handcuffed to his left, and Lamar Gardiner’s arrow-riddled cadaver splayed against the tree in front of him. It is only mere hours before darkness and a bitter winter storm rages. Now it’s personal, and Joe will do whatever it takes to get her back.
4. Trophy Hunt
Game warden Joe Pickett is fly-fishing with his two children on a beautiful late-summer day in his hometown when he comes upon the mangled body of a moose. Half of the animal’s face has been cut away, the skin pulled back from the flesh by whatever attacked it. Joe, disturbed by the sight, begins an investigation into what he believes is a one-time occurrence.
Local police explain the attacks away as the act of a grizzly bear, but Joe knows that’s not the case. The cuts on the moose were far too clean and exact for jagged teeth.
Pickett’s suspicions are confirmed when two dead men are found with wounds very similar to the ones on the moose. And the killings are just starting.
5. Out of Range
Will Jensen, a fellow Wyoming game warden and a dear friend to Joe Pickett, has committed suicide. Now Joe must go and temporarily manage Jensen’s district.
Joe immediately finds himself in over his head in Jackson, Wyoming, which is an epicenter for many environmental radicals and an elitist playground for the wealthy and powerful. But despite the demands of his new position, he can’t get his mind off his friend’s death. Will had changed in the previous few months, according to all reports, becoming more belligerent and unpredictable.
Joe’s life spins out of control as he gets closer to the truth about Will’s death — and he understands that if he’s not cautious, he may wind up as Jackson’s next victim.
6. In Plain Sight
Spring has finally come to Saddlestring, Wyoming, and game warden Joe Pickett is happy the long, harsh winter is over. However, a dark cloud threatens to spoil the milder weather. Local ranch owner and matriarch Opal Scarlett has vanished under suspicious circumstances.
Two of her sons, Hank and Arlen, are battling for control of their mother’s multi-million-dollar empire, and their bitter fight threatens to tear the whole town apart. But everyone is so caught up in the brothers’ battle that they seem to have forgotten that Opal is still missing. Joe is sure, however, that one of the brothers murdered their mother.
Determined to uncover the truth, he is attacked and nearly beaten to death by Hank Scarlett’s new right-hand man on the ranch — a recently arrived stranger who looks eerily familiar… A series of threatening messages and attempts to sabotage Joe’s career follow. At first, he thinks the attacks are due to his investigation into Opal’s disappearance, but he soon learns that someone else is after him. Someone with a very personal grudge who wants to make Joe pay…and pay dearly.
7. Free Fire
Joe Pickett has been recruited to look into one of Wyoming’s most cold-blooded mass murders. Attorney Clay McCann admits to having killed four campers in a remote area of Yellowstone National Park that was a free-fire zone with no residents and overlapping jurisdiction. McCann took advantage of a loophole in the law, but the Governor is aware of the public outrage when he walks free.
Now Pickett must uncover McCann’s reason for the murders. The secret is somewhere within Yellowstone’s landscape which is as rough and hazardous as the guy who wants to keep it secret.
8. Blood Trail
Game wardens discover a man hanged up, gutted, and flayed as if he were the elk he’d been shooting at a mountain camp. Is the assassination the product of a crazed anti-hunting activist or a lone psychopath with a personal grudge? Joe Pickett is the one in charge of tracking down the murderer and stopping him as more bodies turn up.
9. Below Zero
April Pickett, Joe Pickett’s foster daughter, was murdered six years ago. Someone is now sending voicemails pretending to be her. As the family struggles with the upsetting situation, Pickett manages to find out that the calls were from places where significant environmental crimes had happened. The risk grows as the phone calls get closer.
10. Nowhere to Run
Joe Pickett is in his final week as a temporary game warden in Baggs, Wyoming, but his conscience won’t allow him to go without investigating bizarre claims from the wilderness: Camps raided, tents ripped, and elk killed.
And then there’s the runner who simply vanished one day. Joe doesn’t mind admitting that the farther he rides, the more he wishes he could just turn around and go home. And he is right to be concerned.
Because what awaits him is like nothing he’s ever dealt with, like something out of an old story, except this is all too real and too deadly. When he’d first saddled up, he’d thought of this as his last patrol. What he hadn’t known was just how accurate that thought might turn out to be.
11. Cold Wind
Earl Alden’s wife, Missy, is arrested when he is found dead swinging from a wind turbine. Unfortunately for Joe Pickett, Missy is his mother-in-law, a lady he despises fiercely, and he’s at a loss for what to do, especially when all indicators point to her being guilty. But then something happens that makes Joe wonder: Is Earl’s death really as it seems?
He has the county DA and sheriff on one side, his wife on the other, his estranged friend Nate on a lethal mission of his own, and some powerful interests breathing down his neck. Whichever way this goes…it’s not going to be good.
12. Force of Nature
Nate Romanowski was serving in a covert Special Forces unit abroad years ago when his commander committed a heinous crime. The man, now a high-ranking government official, is hell-bent on eliminating everyone who knows about it. To draw Nate out, he will target those he holds dear, which includes Joe Pickett.
The Pickett family as a whole will be a target, and the only way to defend themselves will be outside the law. Nate feels he can do it, but he isn’t sure about his straight-arrow friend. And all their lives may depend on it.
13. Breaking Point
Butch Roberson is a dedicated local business owner whose daughter was friends with Joe Pickett’s, and has long been a favorite acquaintance of Joe. However, when Butch claims he’s going into the mountains to look for elk, he’s actually going on the run.
Two EPA employees were just murdered, and all clues point to Butch as the perpetrator. Soon after, Joe finds out the land Butch and his wife were going to retire on has been recently labeled as wetland by the EPA. The organization has been charging them with exorbitantly expensive fines.
However, Butch Roberson doesn’t seem the kind of man who would kill for this reason. Something else is happening and Joe is going once again to the end of the rabbit hole.
14. Stone Cold
Everything about the man is a mystery. The vast ranch in the isolated Black Hills, the women who live with him, the secret philanthropies, the private airstrip, and the sudden disappearances. Rumor has it that the man’s riches come from hitman services.
Joe Pickett must discover the truth, but he learns a lot more than he expected. Two men are living on that property.
One is a cold-blooded murderer who dislikes Joe right away. The other is new — but Joe knows him all too well.
The first man doesn’t frighten Joe. The second is another story entirely.
Even though he was a rodeo champion, Joe Pickett has good reasons to despise Dallas Cates, and now he has even more. Joe’s eighteen-year-old ward, April, has gone off with him. And Joe has a bad feeling.
Then a girl’s body turns up in a ditch alongside the roadway, barely alive, the victim of blunt force trauma. And it’s April. The doctors aren’t even sure if she’ll make it through the month.
Cates denies any involvement, he claims she ran away from him and there is also evidence pointing to another man. Joe, on the other hand, has a gut feeling about who is responsible.
What he doesn’t realize is the magnitude of the danger he’s going to face. Cates is nasty enough on his own, but Cates’s family is unlike any Joe has ever encountered.
16. Off the Grid
Nate Romanowski is off the grid, recovering from wounds and attempting to resolve past transgressions when an elite special unit unexpectedly challenges him. But they’ve come to negotiate, not to threaten him.
In exchange for helping them defeat a small network of terrorists in the Red Desert, they’ll erase Nate’s criminal record. But Joe Pickett finds they are not what they appear to be.
17. Vicious Circle
The Cates clan had always been a shady people. When his daughter April’s life was threatened, game warden Joe Pickett was able to hit back hard, but he’d always wondered if one day they would hit him back.
He is no longer wondering, but well aware that they are now pursuing him and his family. Joe has his friend Nate by his side this time, but will that be enough? He has no choice but to prepare…and wait for them to make the first move.
18. The Disappeared
Wyoming’s new governor isn’t sure what to make of Joe Pickett, but he has a job for him that is extremely delicate. Three British executives, all women, never came home from the high-end guest ranch they were visiting, and the British Embassy is pressing hard.
Pickett knows that happens sometimes. These ranches are full of handsome young cowboys, and ranch romances aren’t uncommon. But three disappearances? That’s too many.
At the same time, with the help of his friend Nate Romanowski, he is investigating the killings of several bald and golden eagles — a serious federal crime. The more he investigates both cases, the more someone wants him to go away.
Is it because of the missing women or the dead eagles? Or are they somehow connected? The answers, when they come, will be even worse than he’d imagined.
19. Wolf Pack
A remotely-controlled drone is killing wild animals. After preliminary investigations, Joe finds out the drone belongs to a strange and affluent businessman whose son is dating his daughter Lucy.
The FBI forces Joe to stand down when he tries to set down the drone operator, which further adds to his suspicions. Meanwhile, bodies are piling up in alarming numbers around Joe’s neighborhood. He begins to fear the arrival of the Wolf Pack, a group of four ruthless murderers working for the Sinaloa cartel.
20. Long Range
Against his will Joe Pickett departs his district to assist in the rescue attempts for a grizzly assault victim. One survivor of the grizzly’s rampage tells a strange story, but just as Joe starts to fear the assault isn’t what it appears, an emergency on his own territory brings him home.
Someone has been firing at a renowned local judge from an apparently inconceivable distance. While the judge was unharmed, his wife was gravely injured. And the blame is on Joe’s best friend Nate Romanowski.
Now it is up to Joe to figure out what happened, who the gunman was, and why are they trying to incriminate Romanowski.
21. Dark Sky
When Joe Pickett has the unpleasant duty of accompanying a Silicon Valley CEO on an elk shooting excursion, he accepts unwillingly. However, as they enter the woods, a vengeful hunter is hot on their tail. Joe must rely on his wits and his understanding of the environment to protect himself and his charge as they confront the worst man — and nature — can throw at them.
22. Shadows Reel
A day before the three Pickett girls come home for Thanksgiving, Joe answers the call for a moose poaching incident that turns out to be something much more sinister. A local fishing guide has been brutally tortured and murdered.
Meanwhile, Marybeth opens an unmarked package at the library where she works and finds a photo album that belonged to an infamous Nazi official. Who left it there? And why?
She learns that during World War II, several Wyoming soldiers were in the group that fought to Hitler’s Eagles Nest retreat in the Alps — and one of them took the Fuhrer’s personal photo album. Did another take this one and keep it all these years?
When a close neighbor is murdered, Joe and Marybeth face new questions: Who is after the book? And how will they solve its mystery before someone hurts them…or their girls?
Meanwhile, Nate Romanowski is on the hunt for the man who stole his falcons and attacked his wife. Using a network of fellow falconers, Nate tracks the man from one city to another. Even as he grasps the true threat his quarry presents, Nate swoops in for the kill — and a stunning final showdown.
So, there you have each book summarized and a complete overview of the Joe Pickett books in order. Have you read this series before? If you haven’t, we hope you enjoy reading about this loveable game warden steadfast in the pursuit of justice.