THEN CAME CHRISTMAS
Popular Western novelist Eickhoff (The Fourth Horseman, etc.) adds an unusually dark twist to the holiday fiction genre in this grim but revelatory tale, which takes place on a ranch in South Dakota in 1954, as a family struggles against the violent aspects of racial hatred. Samantha McCaslin is the prepubescent narrator who finds her family's Christmas preparations overshadowed by confrontations among her father, some local rednecks and her Native American friend, Abel Six Feathers. Samantha comes to Abel's rescue in one of the fights, but the violence escalates when brutish Tubby Watson decides to take a more drastic form of revenge on Abel. Eickhoff effectively explores the family dynamics as Sam and her parents face a moral quandary when the local sheriff is reluctant to pursue Watson because most of the evidence is circumstantial. Some of the holiday material seems a bit jarring and off-kilter in the context of this story line, but Eickhoff displays a fine feel for setting and pace, and Sam is a well-drawn character with plenty of courage. The scenario that compels her to show her courage is different from the more saccharine challenges normally presented in this genre. Eickhoff deserves credit for his decision to go against the holiday grain, and readers looking for something different this Christmas will find this to be a worthy diversion. (Oct.)
Forecast:Eickhoff's fan base should provide an audience, while the low hardcover price will up the appeal for more casual browsers. National advertising.