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Wednesday 21 January 2015

‘Runaway’ by Peter May

Published by Quercus,
15 January 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-78087-455-5 (HB)

They say your past will catch up with you; whether or not it’s true, the past’s way of casting a shadow on the present can make great fiction.

Peter May’s new novel Runaway explores this premise, by taking three Glaswegians of mature years (claim it though he does, sixty-seven is not old!) on a trip down Memory Lane.

This is no ordinary trip, but the past which casts a shadow over Jack, Dave and Maurie wasn’t ordinary either. Fifty years ago they and two friends ran away to London to seek their fortune as a rock group: something many young lads dreamed of in the 1960s, but few had the courage to do. And in each case, it proved to be the only interesting part of a mundane life.

The perilous journey they undertake is triggered by a news report of the murder of a man they encountered during their teenage adventure. Jack and Dave had put the episode to the backs of their minds, give or take the odd regret about missed opportunities; Maurie, dying of cancer and now with only weeks, possibly days, to live, knows more than he told at the time, and is desperate to put the record straight while there’s still time.

Whether the resulting novel is crime fiction in any real sense is open to question. Crime takes place; aside from the murder, drug dealing, robbery, illegal abortion, car theft, violence, even an attempt at sexual abuse, all play a part in the fifty-years-ago sections, but only as part of the background. To a far greater extent it’s a coming-of-age novel, which evokes the Swinging Sixties in London in a way which brought a nostalgic lump to my throat.

Peter May’s extensive screenwriting background stands him in good stead here. Not only is he adept at letting the dialogue tell the story; he also ensures that the characters’ speech patterns are distinct from each other. As 1960s tearaways, they are engagingly cocky on the surface, a tangle of insecurity underneath. In the present-day sections, you can imagine meeting all three of the elderly, sorry, mature, protagonists down the pub; in fact, anyone under 25 should be forced to do just that, just to prove that age only withers the outside, and the person underneath remains hale and still ripe for adventure.

At times Jack, the narrating character, is inclined to get carried away on a tide of quasi-political musing; mid-20th century housing policy, Thatcherian economics and the north-south divide all get a hearing. But he does it with a light touch, and in such a way that his strong left-wing opinions are less polemic and more part of who he is.

Crime fiction? Only up to a point; we do find out who committed the murder, though it’s no great surprise. Cracking good read, with a great page-turning story, characters who live and breathe and a background you can touch and smell? Definitely.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Peter May is one of Scotland's most prolific television dramatists, he garnered more than 1000 credits in 15 years as scriptwriter and script editor on prime-time British television drama. He is the creator of three major television drama series and presided over two of the highest rated serials in his homeland before quitting television to concentrate on his first love, writing novels. The first book in the Lewis Trilogy, The Blackhouse, set in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.was the winner of France's Cezam Prix Litteraire. The follow-up, The Lewis Man, was winner of the French Newspaper Le Telegramme's 10,000 euro readers' prize for the best book of 2011 as well as Les Ancres Noires 2012.  The trilogy concludes with the publication of The Chessmen.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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