Something strange is going on in the village. A dead pig is carried through the lanes in a coffin, a heap of signposts are buried in a field and a mummy walks the streets late at night, scaring the local ladies half to death. Things have never been the same since the evacuee arrived and the Five Boys mistook him for a Nazi spy. The village has had a whole host of visitors since: the Americans are down the road preparing for D-Day, a deserter is hiding out in the woods. But it is the arrival of the Bee King which makes the biggest impression. He is a law unto himself and has his own strange rituals, and the villagers fear that he is beginning to exert the same charm over their boys as he does over his bees.
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(197mm x 125mm x 18mm)
Faber & Faber
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Country of Publication:
UK Kirkus Review »
Capturing the sweet strangeness of childhood, Mick Jackson's new novel is set against the comic background of a rural Devon village adjusting to World War II. The five boys of the title are initially encountered through the eyes of an East End evacuee, Bobby, an alien creature to them. The boys are a somewhat strange entity too; all born within the same week, they form a unit that is disturbingly indivisible and are left much to themselves until the arrival of the Bee King with his honey, bee lore and strange rituals. Deciding Bobby is the vanguard of the fifth column, they torment him very creatively before suddenly initiating him into their games. Jackson does not romanticise childhood; he ably captures the innocent malevolence of children, their unformed and adaptable natures: the boys' receptivity is what bonds the Bee King to them. Inhabited by quirky comic characters of great invention rather than rural caricatures, the village itself provides much gentle humour provoked by the new necessities of war. There are some excellent set pieces, notably when the villagers bluff their way into the American training area in pursuit of an errant pig and when the GIs are invited to a barn-dance, the jitterbug unleashing an unrestrained frenzy of female energy. As you would expect from a writer who was shortlisted for the Booker for his debut novel, the writing is superb, with an easy humour and well-observed insights. Unfortunately, though, the conclusion is strangely unsatisfying. Bobby disappears without explanation halfway through and the intriguing Bee King, the central character, arrives only in the last quarter of the book. The effect is disjointed and feels unresolved even on the last page, which is a shame because otherwise this is a very entertaining read. (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - Mick Jackson
Mick Jackson is the prize winning author of the novels, The Underground Man, Five Boys and The Widow's Tale. He also published, with the illustrator David Roberts, two acclaimed curiosities, Ten Sorry Tales and Bears of England.