In this funny, touching and highly original novel, a close-knit gang of five boys forms a prism that refracts the idiosyncrasies of WWII English life in a small village in Devon. Ostensibly, the story is about Bobby, a newcomer evacuated from London and the Blitz, who is terrorized and then befriended by the gang. But the real protagonist is the town itself and its unusual denizens: Lillian Minter, the spinster who reluctantly takes Bobby in; the Captain, who spends his days fashioning models of ships wrecked off the Devon coast and, eventually, another newcomer, an apiarist known only as ""the Bee King,"" who introduces the boys to ""the harem in the hive."" These eccentric characters, and many others, are decisively etched, though the eponymous quintet are strangely undeveloped; only one, Aldred Crouch, emerges from their collective presence. The narrative is episodic, more an integrated collection of seriocomic short stories than a novel with dramatic unity, but these vignettes are a testament to Jackson's writerly skill and imagination. Highly evocative of both time and place, the novel is about the bizarre ways the war affected those left at home and how it changed virtually everything about English life, particularly for the generation too young to serve. Jackson, whose previous book, The Underground Man, was shortlisted for the Booker, has a tender, observant eye and a quirky imagination, qualities that bring this work rare luminosity and insight. (June 4) Forecast: Sales could benefit from Jackson's familiarity to American audiences as a former member of the British bands the Screaming Adbabs and the Dinner Ladies. Booksellers can reference John Boorman's movie, Hope and Glory, for a similar evocation of time and place.