The latest dispatch from Maggody, Ark., shows the town besieged by militant survivalists who'd be more threatening if their incompetence didn't rival the burlesque follies of the natives. The newcomers include ``General'' Sterling Pitts, the self-styled ``Silver Fox'' who takes time off from his two-bit insurance brokerage to send his overgrown Boy Scouts scurrying over rough terrain; unemployable drifter Reed (``Red Rooster'') Rondly and his more articulate buddy, ``Colonel'' Barry (``Apocalypse'') Kirklin; Dylan Gilbert, an auto mechanic who arrives in town stuffed to the gills with rumors of a double agent who's infiltrated the little band of patriots; and Kayleen Smeltner, the widowed pawnbroker who seems bent on supplying ordnance to every nutcase in town. Since the locals--especially Dahlia Buchanon, whose vast bulk demurely hides her pregnancy, and her husband Kevin, the half-wit scion of Maggody's first family--are just as goofy as Pitts's militia, if less dangerously so, that's a lot of loose cannons, even before a burglary turned murderous, a tactical exercise ditto, a pair of runaway ostriches, and Dahlia's peripatetic confinement put the icing on the cake. Hess's sublimely silly tales (Miracles in Maggody, 1995, etc.) have always trod a fine line between off-speed mystery and regionalist farce. Here, the demented militants, with their minor- key echoes of the natives' craziness, makes an offer you can't refuse.