Jack MacKay narrates our story, told in part in 1965 when as a young lad he ran away from Glasgow with a group of friends to see if the streets of London were paved with gold. The boys were in a band and they were determined to make a name for themselves, all eager to see the bright lights and to remove themselves from various difficult situations. The gang was made up of a Jewish boy, a Jehovah Witness, A mechanic and Jack who’d just got himself expelled from school. In 2015 three of the same group of friends are on a mission to grant one of their number his dying wish, to return to London to right a wrong from many years before. In both time periods they meet a number of challenges, some of them almost farcical in nature and some that put intolerable strain on their friendship.
It appears that we are in a time where writers are making older people their focus rather than the bit parts that they have traditionally been given, I’m thinking of Elizabeth is Missing and The Girl Next Door which I read last year, and Peter May really gets across how getting older can be a cause of regret, he doesn’t gloss over unachieved ambitions but neither is this book all doom and gloom, giving a good balance by illustrating that there is a sense of the perspective gained by getting older as well as that old truth that in their minds the group may be older but they still feel the same as they’ve always done, just perhaps a little slower. Life’s lessons are delivered to Rick, Jack’s grandson who has been torn away from his twilight lifestyle gaming to act as the driver for the 2015 adventure.
At first I found the narrative style, particularly of the 1965 trip off-putting as it is told by Jack looking back at this time and this inevitably means that some of the views felt way too old for the boy he would have been. There are political statements made about a range of issues including social housing, food banks, unemployment amongst others which made me feel like an elderly Uncle was lecturing me which I found disconcerting. As the story progresses and we find out the part the man who has been brutally murdered in 2015 played in the episodes from 1965, the narrative clicked and story felt more natural. The story is rescued from being entirely from a male perspective with a cousin of one of the group joining them in London. Peter May is a master at drawing a range of believable characters, and that is true in this book too with each member of the group drawn distinctly, I especially loved Jeff and his turn of phrase. As the book draws to a close there were a number of surprises for me as my conclusions proved way off the mark, as usual.
This is a semi-autobiographical novel featuring some of Peter May’s own escapades in London back in the sixties, and it certainly reads like an autobiography, although hopefully the crime committed is fantasy. As such there are references to the music of the time along with details of clothes worn that pertain would add a feeling of nostalgia if only I’d been born then.
I would like to thank the publishers for allowing me to read Runaway and for any of Peter May’s fans that may have been in a band and who lived during this time of change, this is a must read. Runaway is due to be published on 15 January 2015.