by Peter May
Of the three thrillers I read over the past couple of weeks, I managed to review only two, so the third is coming up today. However, before tackling that, I want to say thanks for a second Versatile Blogger Award, a nomination by Cindy from My Book File. For anyone who missed my response, here is the link to it. I also want to thank Anastasia at Read and Survive for a nomination for a Blogger Recognition Award. I’m hoping I might get around to responding to that in the not too distant future.
Meantime, I’d like to say I’m very flattered that readers of my jottings should find them worthy of any award at all!!
So now to my review. Runaway by Peter May is a tale of five teenage boys from Glasgow who runaway to London in pursuit of a musical career. The story is set partly in 1965 – told in first person by Jack – and partly in 2015, narrated in third person, when three of the original group, Jack, Maurie and Dave, aided reluctantly by Jack’s grandson Ricky, retrace their journey to solve a murder. The other two boys, Luke and Jeff, have never left London – why, how and in what condition will be revealed towards the end.
The novel begins with the murder (in 2015) of 74-year-old actor Simon Flet, who in 1965 was accused of murdering a young thug. But Maurie knows he didn’t do it and insists on going to London so that the three friends can uncover the truth.
The 1965 characters are well drawn: Jack has been expelled from school; Luke is escaping from parents who are Jehovah’s witnesses, Dave from physical abuse, Maurie from Jewish parents who have mapped out his whole life for him; Jeff is the only one who has a job. Their journey to London is not without excitement. The lads are robbed in the Lake District, chased by vicious drug dealers in Leeds, where they also rescue Rachel, Maurie’s cousin, from her life as an abused addict at the hands of her ‘boyfriend’ Andy. Though a serious thriller, Runaway is not without its comedic passages, for example when it becomes apparent that the car the lads are driving is stolen. And, in 2015, when we see the sixty-something-year-old Maurie, suffering from advanced terminal cancer, being carried/dragged around much of the time, we can’t help laughing despite the pathos of the situation.
As the narrative jumps back and forth between the time periods and moves towards its climax, we realise there must be a reason why Jack is telling the 1965 story. He obviously has an importance and significance beyond his role as one of five – or six – tearaway teenagers, yet it isn’t immediately obvious why. Arriving in London, the six are given accommodation by a wealthy gay doctor, Cliff Robert, Simon Flet’s lover. Robert promises the band work and meantime introduces the boys to LSD.
Jack forms a sexual attachment to Rachel which has unfortunate consequences. Moreover, Andy (the drug-dealing thug, remember) eventually catches up with them and violence kicks off at a drug-fuelled party at Dr Robert’s place. To reveal more of the plot would spoil it for potential readers, so I’ll stop there. But I will say there are some surprises.
Runaway is not the best thriller I have read but it is a good one. Peter May has probably put a lot of his own experiences into the novel. It has the feeling of real life about it. The 1965 London and Glasgow backgrounds are definitely authentic. I remember quite a lot about what those cities were like in the sixties from my own young life (though I’ve never stolen a van nor taken LSD) and I have to confess to a certain nostalgia when reading some passages in the book.
Peter May has written about twenty novels and has won several awards. The only other I’ve read is The Blackhouse, a dark, dismal detective thriller set in the Outer Hebrides. If you like that kind of thing, it’s worth reading too.