Meet Joey Miller. He's a middle-aged architect, originally from Kilmarnock in Ayrshire. By most standards he's had a successful career and a successful life. But that's not how it feels to him. He's in Shanghai in China so he can... well he's not really sure why he's there. Insecure and anxious, he sees his life as a series of failures, and he has no idea what the future holds for him, beyond increasing loneliness. Meet Bobby Cassidy. He's a middle-aged disc jockey living on Ibiza, also originally from Kilmarnock. He, too, has had his successes, achieving fame and fortune before his career went into decline, leaving him lost and desperately unhappy. Joey and Bobby grew up together in the early 80s and were utterly inseparable. Until they separated, acrimoniously, in their late teens. Many years later an incident at the funeral of someone they both loved only served to confirm that the break between them was beyond repair. Both now live with deep regrets arising from their lost friendship.
"The Man Who Loved Islands" by David F. Ross is a wonderful book about life and the way we choose to live it. It will strike a particular chord with anyone who has lived long enough to ever ask themselves "why?" or "what if?" but as that's anyone who is much beyond their teenage years, it should appeal to a very wide audience indeed. The central characters talk in the Ayrshire vernacular, despite having left Kilmarnock behind long before, and this lends a nice sense of identity without ever getting in the way of the flow of the story.
The reader is taken back and forth between Joey's story in China in 2014 and Bobby's story at various points in his life over the three decades leading up to that year. But then friends intervene, and the two are brought together in Ibiza for one last chance to bridge the deep rift between them. Back in Scotland, they have the opportunity to remember a lost brother and friend, the same brother and friend whose funeral cemented their divisions years earlier, and bring about something truly memorable and remarkable, something most believe to be impossible. Can they really reunite the legendary - and long dissolved - Ayrshire band, The Miraculous Vespas, for a one-off music festival on an uninhabited island off the Ayrshire coast?
With occasional excursions back to fill in the gaps at key moments in the past, we follow Joey and Bobby in their efforts to make the impossible real. Can they succeed, or is the weight of the baggage they - and others - carry with them too much to overcome? The result is a mounting sense of tension as the book moves towards its conclusion. Does real life ever deliver happy endings: and is David F. Ross going to give us one here? You'll have to read the book for yourself to find out the answer to the second part of that question. "The Man Who Loved Islands" is the third book in a trilogy. If, like us, you've not read the first two parts of the trilogy, don't worry: it stands on its own merits and can be highly recommended on that basis.