The Best C.J. Box Books, Ranked in Order

What are the best CJ Box books? For newcomers to Box’s work, deciding which book to pick up first is a serious challenge. That’s because Box has been incredibly prolific in the years since the publication of his first novel.

Best CJ Box Books

Box is best known for his Joe Pickett series, featuring an honest, upright, hardworking and faithful Wyoming Game and Fish warden. Pickett’s famous flaw is his unyielding commitment to uphold the law without exception (he’s infamous for giving the Governor a ticket for fishing without a license). He also has a habit of constantly finding himself in trouble with his superiors, who are often either corrupt or lazy – or both. Among Joe’s other endearing features is his ability to wreck just about every truck the state has given him in the line of duty.

The series now features twenty-five books and has spawned a Paramount streaming series. 

But there’s far more to Box than Joe Pickett. Box won the Edgar Alan Poe Award for Best Novel (Blue Heaven, 2009). He went on to win Anthony Award, Prix Calibre 38 (France), the Macavity Award, the Gumshoe Award, the Barry Award (twice), the Western Heritage Award for Literature, and the 2017 Spur Award for Best Contemporary Western. 

On top of all that, the TV series Big Sky was also adapted for television based on Box’s The Highway series books. 

Box is a Wyoming native and has worked as a ranch hand, surveyor, fishing guide, a small town newspaper reporter and editor. An avid outdoorsman, Box has hunted, fished, hiked, ridden, and skied throughout Wyoming and the Mountain West. He served on the Board of Directors for the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo and is currently serving on the Wyoming Tourism Board.

Here are our recommendations for the best CJ Box books, ranked in order of greatness. 

Blue Heaven

Blue Heaven, one of the best CJ Box Books

In C.J. Box’s outstanding breakout novel, a twelve-year-old girl and her younger brother are on the run in the Idaho woods.

They are pursued by four men they have just watched commit murder.

Four men who know exactly who William and Annie are. And where their mother lives.

Retired policemen from Los Angeles, the killers easily persuade the local sheriff to let them lead the search for the missing children.

 Now there’s nowhere left for William and Annie to hide…and no one they can trust. Until they meet Jess Rawlins.

Rawlins, an old-school rancher, knows trouble when he sees it. 

He is only one against four men who will stop at nothing to silence their witnesses. But these ex-cops don’t know just how far Rawlins will go to protect William and Annie…and see that justice is done.

Choice Cut: “My dad would have said you are jumping around like a fart in a skillet.”

Three-Inch Teeth 

Three-Inch-Teeth, a top CJ Box novel

Taking place much later in the Joe Pickett timeline, Three-Inch-Teeth comes after Pickett’s children are largely grown. While it visits familiar themes that appear earlier in the series, the book’s gritty realism and emotional heft makes it one of the best Joe Pickett books.

Here Joe Pickett faces two different kinds of rampaging beasts—one animal, and one human.

A rogue grizzly bear has gone on a rampage.

And for Joe, this unfortunately becomes personal. 

One of his victims is his daughter’s potential fiancée. 

Meanwhile, Dallas Cates, who Joe helped lock up years ago, is released from prison with a list of six names tattooed on his skin. 

Cates wants revenge on the people who sent him away: the people he blames for the deaths of his entire family and the loss of his reputation and property.

Among the names: both Joe and loyal sidekick Nate Romanowski.

Using the grizzly attacks as cover, Cates sets out to methodically check off his list.

Choice cut: “A griz bite is something like eleven hundred pounds per square inch. Compare that to a human with a hundred and sixty-two PSI.”

Nowhere to Run

Nowhere to Run, one of the best C.J. Box books

Exiled to a remote district of southern Wyoming, Joe Pickett has one week left before he regains his old job in Twelve Sleep County, where his family still lives. 

During a final horseback patrol, Box spots a man fishing without a license. 

The angler radiates danger, and a normal – and perhaps more sensible – game warden would simply let it go.

But Joe simply can’t let it go. 

And what starts as a routine citation for unlicensed fishing turns into a deadly confrontation with twin brothers Caleb and Camish Grim, whose anger at the government is dangerously intense.

It’s just the first step in an unbelievably intense ordeal. 

What awaits Joe is like something out of an old campfire tale, except this story is all too real—and all too deadly.

As usual, Pickett’s outlaw friend, Nate Romanowski, is up for a fight. 

What’s more, the Grim brothers have a legitimate beef with the government, which gives this novel undeniable heft.  

Choice Cut: The Wind River Mountains were what the Tetons wanted to be: towering, incredibly wealthy with scenery and wildlife, vast, and spiritual. The Bighorns, Joe’s mountains in northern Wyoming where his family still was waiting for him, were comfortable, rounded, and wry—a retired All-Pro linebacker who still had it.

Open Season 

Open Season, a great C.J. box novel

Open Season was the basis for an unforgettable season of the Joe Pickett TV series for good reason. 

Twelve Sleep is a place where nearly everyone hunts, whether they are licensed to do so or not.

Joe doesn’t take bribes, and that policy creates enemies. 

When he finds a local hunting outfitter dead, splayed out on the woodpile behind his state-owned home, he takes it personally. 

There had to be a reason that the outfitter, with whom he’s had run-ins before, chose his backyard, his woodpile to die in. 

Even after the “outfitter murders,” as they have been dubbed by the local press after the discovery of the two more bodies, are solved, Joe continues to investigate, uneasy with the easy explanation offered by the local police.

As Joe digs deeper into the murders, he soon discovers that the outfitter brought more than death to his backdoor: he brought Joe an endangered species, thought to be extinct, which is now living in his woodpile. 

But if word of the existence of this endangered species gets out, it will destroy any chance of InterWest, a multi-national natural gas company, building an oil pipeline that would bring the company billions of dollars across Wyoming, through the mountains and forests of Twelve Sleep. 

The closer Joe comes to the truth, the endangered species and InterWest, the closer he comes to losing everything.

Choice cut: Stops at the end of the road collected Clyde Lidgards like dams collected silt.

Savage Run

Savage Run, one of the best Joe Pickett books

When a massive blast rocks the forests of Twelve Sleep County, Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett is called to the scene to help investigate the death of a colorful environmental activist. 

An exploding cow kills a famous ecoterrorist, Stewie Woods. 

Soon, a congressman, a writer, a lawyer and an animal-rights activist all turn up dead. Are the cases connected? 

A visit to the rancher who owned the cow sparks Joe’s suspicions. 

Nevertheless, the case is wrapped up quickly, explained as an environmental publicity stunt gone wrong.

Joe isn’t convinced, which draws the ire of local law enforcement. 

Joe’s wife, Marybeth, begins receiving phone calls from her high-school boyfriend – who is purportedly among the deceased. 

Choice cut: “You people just like the idea of things, like bringing the wolves back. It makes you feel better.” He looked from Britney to Stewie, both of whom averted their eyes. “I agree that it is a beneficial thing overall. But you don’t like to see what really happens out here when those grand ideas become real, do you?”

In Plain Sight

One of the best Joe Pickett books by C.J. Box

Also the basis for a portion of the Joe Pickett TV series, this is a gem that can’t be missed.

Ranch owner and matriarch Opal Scarlett has vanished under suspicious circumstances.

The deal happened during a bitter struggle between her sons, Hank and Arlen, who are fighting over control of her million-dollar empire. 

Joe Pickett is convinced one of the boys must have killed her. 

Meanwhile, Joe and his family become the target of killer John Wayne Keeley.

Joe’s daughter, Sheridan, also finds herself in particular danger due to a random connection to the struggle. 

As usual, Joe is also in trouble with his corrupt boss, Randy Pope, who pulls Joe off the case.

Think that will stop Joe? 

Think again. 

Choice cut: If you walk around with a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

Joe Pickett Books in Order of Publication

Open Season (2001)

Savage Run (2002)

Winterkill (2003)

Trophy Hunt (2004)

Out of Range (2005)

In Plain Sight (2006)

Free Fire (2007)

Blood Trail (2008)

Below Zero (2009)

Nowhere to Run (2010)

Cold Wind (2011)

Force of Nature (2012)

Breaking Point (2013)

Stone Cold (2014)

Endangered (2015)

Off the Grid (2016)

Vicious Circle (2017)

The Disappeared (2018)

Wolf Pack (2019)

Long Range (2020)

Dark Sky (2021)

Shadows Reel (2022)

Storm Watch (2023)

Three-Inch Teeth (2024)

Battle Mountain (2025)

Cody Hoyt / Cassie Dewell Books in Order of Publication

Back of Beyond (2011)

The Highway (2013)

Badlands (2015)

Paradise Valley (2017)

The Bitterroots (2019)

Treasure State (2022)

Stand-Alone CJ Box Books in order of Publication

Blue Heaven (2008)

Three Weeks to Say Goodbye (2009)

Pronghorns of the Third Reich (2014)

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