Picks and Pans Review: Five Boys

updated 07/22/2002 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/22/2002 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Mick Jackson

The World War II-era southern English village in Jackson's absorbing second novel bustles like a hive full of queen bees. With most men at war, the "stay-behinds" and children evacuated from London share a strange existence that Jackson subtly mines for dark humor. A village elder spends nights staring into his telescope—at women in an exercise class. Lonely girls listening for "the clank of tailgates falling open" pin their romantic hopes on American GIs—who are bound for Normandy.

Though freshly written and amusing, these vignettes seem to hang plotless until the arrival of a laconic, fatherly beekeeper who mesmerizes a gang of five boys. That leads to the stings of a murder-and-revenge twist with which Jackson adroitly opens our eyes to the reality of war and death that always lurked nearby. (Morrow, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Good buzz

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