Peter May is an author whose books have deeply impressed us. The Lewis Trilogy was a triumph, and "Entry Island" again had us reaching for the superlatives. We therefore approached his latest novel, "Runaway", with huge expectations. It is good to be able to report that these expectations were more than amply realised by what we found between the covers.
"Runaway" is a book that is hard to categorise. It begins, as all good crime novels should, with a murder, and that is not the last to be encountered by the reader within the book. But it could equally be regarded as the story of one man's coming-of-age, twice, fifty years apart: at the age of 17 and again at 67. Anyone who has read his earlier works will know that Peter May is a master of telling a story that develops in interwoven strands, sometimes widely separated in time. "Runaway" involves two distinct but beautifully parallel storylines. In 1965, aspiring musician Jack Mackay is kicked out of school at the age of 17 and runs away to seek his fortune in London, taking four friends and bandmates with him. Only three of the five ever return to Glasgow, each in their own way scarred by the experience.
In 2015 the murder that opens the book prompts the three 67 year old men, now much sadder, though perhaps not much wiser, and in one case terminally ill, to travel once more from Glasgow to London. We follow the two journeys, separated by half a century, as they proceed across the landscapes of an England changed out of all recognition over the intervening years. As both trips run into unexpected problems and events spiral chaotically out of control you get the strong sense of Peter May channelling just a hint of Jack Kerouac and perhaps a dash of Hunter S. Thompson.
But journeys need destinations, and as the ancient and modern strands of the story each reach London, they begin to converge in a way that is both powerful and compelling. While the misadventures en route are entertaining, it is always clear that the dark heart of the story is awaiting the reader, as it awaits Jack and his friends, in London. What really happened in 1965, and why have the consequences returned to the surface again fifty years later? And will Jack be able to revisit choices he made in 1965, choices that he regretted instantly and which he feels have blighted his whole life since? This is an outstanding novel that speaks directly to the little voice within each of us: the voice that in our quieter moments sometimes asks "What if?"