Nantucket Five-Spot by Steven Axelrod is subtitled "A Henry Kennis Mystery," but it's more thriller than mystery because we know (or should know) at page 14 who the bad guy is. We just have to see how much mayhem he plans to cause on Nantucket island one summer at the height of the tourist season.
Henry Kennis, the narrator, is Nantucket's chief of police. (Axelrod thanks Nantucket Police Chief William Pittnam "for his continuing advice and support.") The book starts with a bang. In the first paragraph, Kennis and Franny Tate, a former love, are having a romantic dinner overlooking Nantucket harbor "when the first bomb went off."
Almost immediately, the island is overrun with state police, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force agents as Kennis and his officers are elbowed aside for crowd control and "support."
Of course, Kennis and his staff know the island and the year-round residents—and the residents know their chief, an important factor. Indeed, Nantucket itself is virtually a character in a book filled with characters, and Axelrod's characters have strong feelings about the island's changing landscape (the second bomb partially destroys a nouveau country club).
As Kennis says about a careless driver, "That's something I hate. People who drive like that. Sometimes I want to arrest everyone—throw them all in jail, impound their cars and their cell phones and their computers and their TVs, and give their stupid McMansions which they use two week a year to the homeless people who need a roof over their heads."
Nantucket Five-Spot is satisfyingly complex with a pulse-raising conclusion. And, perhaps because Axelrod has an MFA in writing from Vermont College, the writing often crackles: "He was a slender man with lots of well-groomed blond hair framing his hawkish face, blue eyes set tight together, sharp nose, thin lips clinched around his indignation, sucking it like a sourball. He spoke with a slight southern accent...." Another example: "For some reason she reminded me of my daughter, soberly explaining that popping all the bubble wrap would make it easier to fit the plastic into the recycling can, when both of us knew she just wanted to do the firecracker dance."
For readers like myself who trip over foreshadowing, the novel did cause me to stumble once or twice: "Just how catastrophically, tragically, fatally bad that choice had been she was going to learn before the end of this close and humid summer day...." And as I wrote a moment ago, the story is complex with wheels within wheels that might put off some readers.
But on balance, I think Nantucket Five-Spot is an interesting thriller, filled with plausible characters, and a plot that edges right up to but never quite tips over into the preposterous.