HAVING enjoyed breakout bestseller success with stories set on islands of various degrees of remoteness — the Lewis Trilogy and the Canadian set Entry Island — Peter May goes urban with a story based on an episode from his own life.
As a teenager in the 1960s, May and his mates ran away from Glasgow to try and make a name for themselves on the Swinging London music scene.
In Runaway, the Glasgow-born but French resident author takes that ill-fated adventure as a starting point, moves the action back a few years to the early 1960s and, because his books appear in the crime section of the bookshop, adds in a murder.
Actually, the murder element, introduced in a grim but largely unnecessary prologue, is the least satisfying element of the book. Of the 60-something survivors who decide to retrace their journey to London in the wake of the killing, one is already well aware who the murderer is and why the crime is committed, so the murder mystery element is largely redundant,
But that does not mean the story is lacking in suspense as the naïve teenagers and the tired and disillusioned men they become make their journey to London half a century apart. Yet somewhere within the heavy-hearted Jack Mackay and his companions, the heavy drinking Dave and the dying Maurie are the remnants of the hopeful and adventurous teenagers they once were.
As innocent and clueless as Jack and his friends were as teens, they still bear favoutrable comparison with the modern generation as personified by Jack’s grandson Ricky. Intelligent but spoiled and squandering his abilities and opportunities in favour of an online existence in front of a games console, he is blackmailed into taking the aging delinquents to London, in the process discovering that his grandfather is not the sad loser his father has painted him.
A coming of age story disguised as a thriller, it also has an important message for those at the other end of the life cycle with an optimistic coda that offers the hope it is never too late for second chances.
May’s journalistic background helps him conjure up a convincing picture of London as it was about to swing with a couple of cheeky cameos from real life figures, including possibly a leading member of a certain Liverpool beat combo.
Not as dark as his Lewis Trilogy or as intense as his China thrillers, this is a nice change of pace from the always impressive May.
Runaway is out now in paperback