Old Western hand Curtis has published 18 novels (No Mercy, 1995, etc.), usually oaters. Now, in a turn-of-the-century Nevada Christmas fable, he blends suspense with a Dickensian miracle. Widow Rose Cameron is pregnant, raising her sick son Tommy, and trying to hold her late husband's horse ranch together rather than sell out to the bank. But a tremendous blizzard sweeps in from the plains and sends hope up into the howling winds. First came the Indians, then rustlers, then squatters, then drought, and now a blizzard. And Christmas is near as Joel Reese, a black-hatted stranger on a big black stallion named Coalie, rides over to the Cameron ranch and asks Rose if he can sleep in her barn. Instead she offers to let him stay in her house and care for her turkeys (if they don't freeze first) while she takes Tommy to the doctor in the poor and depressed town of Calico. Things go from bad to worse in Calico, where everybody owes the bank and nobody--not the doctor, not the storekeeper--wants to extend credit to Rose. Even the saloon's going under. Eventually, she does sell out to the bank while Tommy lies dying of fever. Then Reese rides into town and takes the Scots banker, Gotch, on a forced tour of the cemetery the frosty town has become--with a dead dog in the street and coyotes digging up graves--but Gotch has a dour Scottish witticism to offer for every foul view. The dead themselves, though, will straighten Gotch out. About as sentimental as a rat trap: the best of the season so far.