Christmas brings a startling assortment of violent surprises to Officer Heather English of the Sewa Tribal Police, her Cheyenne uncle and her father.
The first surprise comes when Heather, following an anonymous phone tip, finds Arizona governor-elect Joe Hyde’s corpse skinned and pinned to a wall far from anywhere. Her uncle Mad Dog awakens to discover a package on his doorstep containing a severed human hand, a grisly sign from someone who thinks Mad Dog, a wannabe shaman, is setting up as a rival drug lord. Nor is Heather’s father, sheriff of far-off Benteen County, Kan., to be outdone. A pair of apparently innocuous misdemeanors—elderly Lottie Walker’s reckless driving and the defacing of Don Crabtree’s Yuletide crèche—swiftly escalate to a full-blown, and ultimately sanguinary, battle between Sheriff English and the townsfolk, who are convinced he wants to confiscate their guns. How closely will Mad Dog’s troubles with the killer hired to take him out be linked to Heather’s stalking by the professional assassin who’s still smarting because she survived their last encounter (Server Down, 2008, etc.)? And what do their travails have to do with those of her father and brother four states away? Hayes cuts back and forth from one story to the next, pumping up the body count—at least 12 dead among the three plotlines—and editing for maximum punch. The result, however cinematic, is oddly weightless, with a general effect of nonstop bustle rather than violent threat.
The best of the three stories is Sheriff English’s siege against his gun-toting neighbors; the other two are for fans of the first five installments only.