Outdoorsy types are the new tough guys (and gals) in crime fiction. C. J. Box’s Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett may be the best known of the current crop, but Joe better not look back (as Satchel Paige warned), because, if he does, he’ll likely hear Paul Doiron’s Mike Bowditch, from Maine, gaining on him. And, of course, let’s not forget Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon, who is a park ranger rather than a game warden but who was finding trouble in the woods years before any of these newer fellows. This list brings together Pickett, Bowditch, and Pigeon and, for good measure, throws in a “wilderness detective” and a retired cop, both from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, along with a Wyoming sheriff and a Montana fishing guide. Doiron has said that, in Maine, game wardens are off-road police officers, with all the rights that title suggests, and while not all the characters on this list have quite as much legal sanction to bash heads in the line of duty, they all do what needs doing.
The Rope, by Nevada Barr
Barr’s long-running Anna Pigeon series, starring the intrepid National Park ranger, gets its origin story. Anna, a rookie ranger at Dangling Rope Park, is thrown into a hole, which she must share with a corpse. A grisly beginning for a much-loved series.
Open Season, by C. J. Box
Joe Pickett, star of Box’s long-running series, is a game warden in Wyoming, and like Paul Doiron’s Mike Bowditch, he has a way of angering his superiors while standing up for the natural world in the face of exploitation. Like Maine in Doiron’s novels, the Wyoming high country is a palpable presence in this series, its grandeur continually set against the venality of most human concerns.
The Precipice, by Paul Doiron
The sixth in Doiron’s Mike Bowditch series finds the bureaucrat-battling game warden tracking the killers of two female hikers whose bodies were discovered ravaged by coyotes in Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness. The suits want to believe the coyotes did the killing, not merely the post-mortem feasting, but Bowditch isn’t buying it and isn’t afraid to say so.
Running Dark, by Joseph Haywood
In this second in the series, Grady Service, a “wilderness detective” with the Department of Natural Resources in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is tasked with quelling a revolt of “Yoopers” (permanent residents of the UP) who strike back against new rules regulating fish and game harvests. Mike Bowditch faces a similar problem in Massacre Pond (2013).
The Big Seven, by Jim Harrison
Detective Sunderson is a retired cop living in Michigan’s UP and looking forward to some quiet time at a cabin on a trout stream deep in the woods. Not happening. Down the way from his cabin live the Ames, a ferocious, inbred family of outlaws (not unlike the Dows in Doiron’s The Precipice) who terrorize anyone who comes near them. Sunderson does more than come near them: he has sex with not one but two of the Ames women.
Any Other Name, by Craig Johnson
In his eleventh adventure, Walt Longmire, sheriff of Absaroka County in a remote part of Wyoming, travels to an equally remote part, Campbell County, near the South Dakota border, to investigate a lawman’s apparent suicide. Walt has a way of winding up in snowstorms throughout this series, but this one’s a doozy: not only is he lost, but he also comes upon a herd of bison. Now that’s remote.
Crazy Mountain Kiss, by Keith McCafferty
Sheriff Martha Ettinger and fishing guide and part-time detective Sean Stranahan have an off-again, on-again relationship in the McCafferty series set near Montana’s Crazy Mountains. In the course of investigating the death of a woman found jammed in a chimney in a cabin deep in the mountains, the two dance toward reconciliation when they’re not sparring about incompatibility. McCafferty knows his mountains and his trout streams as well as anyone on this list.