So after reading two standalone C. J. Box novels (the Edgar-winning Blue Heaven and the equally impressive Back of Beyond), I put all 16 of his other novels on my to-be-read list. This is his first book, written back in 2002, and it's another winner. I regret I didn't start sooner.
It is also Box's first novel with Joe Pickett, his series hero. Joe is a game warden, toiling in a remote county for Wyoming's Game and Fish Department. It's (literally) his childhood-dream job. Unfortunately, the pay is bad, his state-provided housing is small and shabby, and he's got two daughters with another kid on the way.
Also, Joe's trusting nature leads him to make a mistake. When confronting Ote Keely, a poacher caught (literally) red-handed, he allows his sidearm to be taken. This gets Joe (understandably) in some trouble.
But he keeps his job, and his life. Ote shows up again a few months later, murdered, in Joe's back yard. For some reason, he's travelled gut-shot for miles to Joe's back yard, only to expire by the woodpile. The only clue is an open cooler containing poop of unknown origin and significance.
The crime is immediately solved to the satisfaction of everyone except Joe. He makes a few inquiries, and the response is a multi-pronged attempt to get Joe to back off. Things escalate rather quickly, exposing the corruption of some of Joe's co-workers. And his family become the targets, which is harrowing reading.