“Bad Habit” – Our newest Vineyard thriller


“Bad Habit At The Vineyard” by Jerry Allen, Island Dog Publishing, 2012. 366 pp. Oversized paperback, $13.99. Available at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, Vineyard Haven.

Mr. Allen has some history on the Island and more than a decade of experience sailing big boats in the Caribbean. Now he’s got a home and boat carpentry and repair business in West Tisbury.

Books about wacky bad behavior on our Island of Lost Children are a treat.

Tom Clancy, Lawrence Block, and R.D. Wingfield are not looking over their shoulders, but Jerry Allen has concocted a tale of international industrial espionage, one-percenters racing their yachts for blood, loud roosters, hilarity with Manhattan hit men in the woods, one rogue skunk, and lots of bullets flying. This is a story with lots of subplot, including soupcons of bad behavior, hot babes, and romance.

For those of us fidgeting about the near return of the The Hopelessly Narcissistic, Mr. Allen offers a full skewer of the foibles of the idle rich and their offspring.

If you’re a sailor, the high-tech gizmos on this baby will leave you moaning. If you’re not a sailor but you are a guy, Mr. Allen’s painstakingly detailed descriptions of the crew’s hotties and their outfits may produce the same reaction.

In a chat this week, Mr. Allen allowed that he has pushed beyond state-of-the-art with some of the on-board high-tech gadgetry though they seemed logical to this landlubbing reader.

Here’s the story.

Good guy captain George Attwood delivers a 91-foot sloop to its good guy Island owner, high-tech mogul Harold Habit.

About the same time, raffish Captain Bill (no last names, please) has delivered Dragon, a 92-foot sloop, to bad guy owner Carlisle Crowlak of Chilmark. Mr. Crowlak’s life perspective is easily summarized: he needs his to be bigger than Habit’s.

Since moving to the Island, Mr. Allen has paid attention to the real-life zaniness in which we engage from time to time. If you are an Island resident, you will remember the Great Rooster Contretemps in West Tisbury five years ago. In the case, an off-Island summer couple and neighboring back-to-the-landers, all putative adults, fought for months over a rooster crowing at dawn. You can’t make this stuff up.

After lawsuits and multiple sessions involving high-priced lawyers, snappy high-tech noise measuring experts, and a call for the state EPA to get involved in a noise pollution issue (the EPA declined), it was left to West Tisbury building inspector Ernie Mendenhall to read the chicken entrails. He concluded that since West Tisbury is an agricultural community and has been for a few hundred years, you’ll have crowing roosters and the occasional cow pie.

The version in “Bad Habit” takes it further. Crowlak hires gunsels to assassinate the rooster. Great stuff. At the same time, Crowlak is also concerned that nature is having its way with his neighbors’ trees, obscuring Crowlak’s water view. The neighbor? You guessed it. Harold Habit. Crowlak advises his seventh-generation Islander handyman to burn the trees down.

But the big story is this: Who is after the defense software programs that Habit’s company has developed? White-collar thieves and a foreign government have their fingerprints on this caper. Before the shooting’s done, you got your FBI, your CIA, and a couple of F-15 fighter jets involved.

Mr. Allen knows Island priorities. He sets the grudge yacht race between Bad Habit and Dragon around fundraising for our new animal shelter. As opposed to, say, affordable shelters for people.

“Bad Habit” has some bad habits. It suffers from overlong exposition and descriptions, and the manuscript wanted basic editing badly. A second pair of eyes would have seen, for example, that the words “scull” and “skull” are not mutually interchangeable in describing human anatomy, even when the skull in question was in several pieces.

Some tightening would have made this a 300-pager. But you’ll have those issues with do-it-yourself books. As self-publishing authors mature, we are seeing serious authors refine their craft to improve subsequent work. This is Mr. Allen’s second novel. “Bad Habit” is a much more seamless read than “The Resort,” his initial offering.

As the writing books say, if you know your subject, have a lively imagination, and perspective, you get a yarn like “Bad Habit” that’s worth the reader’s time. Nice to see in a world of tweets and texts.