Runaway by Peter May

runawayHit the road, Jack…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

When Jack Mackay is expelled from school, he decides to run away to London. He tells his friends, the other four members of the band he plays in, and they decide to go with him – partly to get away from problems in their own lives, and partly to seek fame and fortune. It’s 1965, and London is swinging – the place to be for all aspiring musicians. But it’s also a place where young people can find themselves manipulated and used, and caught up in events they can’t control. And Jack’s London adventure ends with a killing. Fifty years on, one of the band members, Maurie, now terminally ill with cancer, reveals that the person everyone thought was the killer was innocent, and that he knows who really did it. He persuades Jack and Dave, the two remaining band members still living in Glasgow, to go back with him to London to put things right while there’s still time.

The publicity blurb for the book tells us that parts of the story are based on May’s own experiences of running away to London as a teenager. As with his last few books, this one has a double timeline. The story of the ’60s London trip is told by Jack in the first-person, while the present day section is third person, though still very firmly from Jack’s perspective, and both sections are written in the past tense. Though we know from the beginning that someone is murdered, we don’t know who or why until near the end, so this has more of the feel of thriller than a mystery. We also know that Maurie knows whodunit, so there’s no investigation element. Instead what we have are two linked but very different stories of the characters heading to London, and the gradual revelation of what happened to the boys in the earlier storyline once they got there.

Both timelines have a great feeling of authenticity and, as always with May, the sense of place is done superbly. I hadn’t realised May grew up in the Southside of Glasgow (as did I), but the accuracy with which he describes it suggests he must have done. Although he’s writing about a somewhat earlier era than my own, the places, attitudes, language and lifestyle are all spot-on. Spookily so, in fact – I kept finding parts of my own life mirrored in the story and spent much of the early part of the book being reminded of events and places in my own past.

The Pond in Queen's Park on Glasgow's Southside...
The Pond in Queen’s Park on Glasgow’s Southside…

The two journeys, 50 years apart, allow May to show the changes across the country in that time, and he does so very well. Both journeys take the form of road-trips, punctuated by accident and disaster, but lifted by a healthy dose of humour. Along the way, the boys rescue Maurie’s cousin from her drug-dealing boyfriend and she becomes one of the gang as they finally arrive in London and start looking round for the streets paved with gold. And at first, when they are given lodgings and a job by a man who promises them a chance to cut a demo disc, it looks as though they have landed on their feet. But it’s not long before things go wrong and start to spiral out of control.

The trip undertaken by the older version of the men in the present day is filled with a mixture of nostalgia and humour. It’s through Jack’s reminiscences during this trip that we see the earlier story unfold, and see him reassessing with the eyes of experience the risks to which his younger self laid himself open. Gradually we see how his whole life has been affected by the things that happened back then, with this trip giving him a chance for some kind of resolution and even redemption.

Peter May
Peter May

The one weakness of the book for me was the crime element itself. The murder and motive for it weren’t quite strong enough to justify the lengthy lead-up – in fact, it felt a little as if it had been tacked on to justify the book being classed as a crime novel. The strength of the book is in the relationships between the boys as they face up to the realities of life; and later between the men as they come to terms with the events that had such an impact on each of their lives. The ending felt a little contrived to bring the whole thing to a neat conclusion.

Overall, though, this is an excellent read that convinces me again that May is at his strongest when he’s writing about his own native country – his instinctive feel for the places and people is far more convincing than even his best researched books set elsewhere. But perhaps I’m biased…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Quercus.

* * * * *

Interesting little note…

Apparently May and his old friend Stephen Penn have released an album, also entitled Runaway. Sadly there’s no video for the title track on youtube but here is Peter May singing Big Bad Wolf


(I don’t do music reviews so shall leave you to judge it for yourself. But you just gotta love the bikini-clad dollybirds! Ah, middle-aged men and their little fantasies – what would we do without them? 😉 )

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

70 thoughts on “Runaway by Peter May

  1. Hmm. It didn’t quite reach the high standards of Lady Fancifull’s musical top ten. A little pedantic for me. Though I did like Bambi and the dog very much. I think I lasted about 1 1/2 minutes! (heads back to her own blog for a quick and cheerful burst of Rossini on the Lovric post)

    HOWEVER I was amused to see BOTH our current posts have a 60s setting, and a lookback to the sixites setting, enabling a look at changes in society, AND a health related thread to it


    • No, no – you must watch again and start at 2mins 30 secs for the full effect! Absolute proof that feminism has failed… 😉

      Almost every book has a double timeline now – at least Vine wrote her years ago so can’t really be accused of bandwagon jumping, but I am getting a little tired of the format now, TBH. Mind you, I’m not really blaming May either – he was one of the first to set the current bandwagon rolling…


      • Oh dear. Oh dear! OH DEAR! Though I found the ‘music’ so very dreary that the only way i could do it was to watch the video on mute.

        I loved the tiger though. I was rather hoping the tiger would chase the chaps away!


  2. This all sounds very good, even if it does have the split-timeline thing I find so off-putting (usually). Isn’t it great when you read a book that reminds you of your own life or upbringing? It adds an extra dimension, I think. I have yet to find one based on Northampton in the 80s/90s, but if you know of one do let me know! 😀


  3. FictionFan – Now I’ve got that song running through my head! Thanks, though; it’s a great song! 😉 – I’m glad you thought this was a good read. It is interesting how that ‘older person looking back’ motif shows up quite a bit in crime fiction. May have to do a post on that…


    • Yes, it ties in with the double timeline thing which is so popular at the moment. This was good because you felt that May had truly experienced both parts of the timeline himself – though his characters were a decade or so older than he is, I think…


  4. *laughs* I must first say something about the video. Can’t get it out of my mind! The backdrops are hilarious! I wonder what overall effect he was going for… I’m sure there’s a lot of time invested in making those and adding all of those effects! The girls looked ridiculous dancing, btw!

    The book itself does sound neatio. I like the fact that you get to hear almost two different stories. The one in the past and the one in the present. I hope the murder was perfectly gory. (They should have come to America for a musical career.)


    • *laughing lots* Of course, I’ve been caught out being mean again! I thought it was technically well done, but just couldn’t stop laughing at the girls – a throwback to the sixties or seventies! I couldn’t help wondering if they were computer-generated – hoping, really! You have no idea how glad I am to hear you thought they looked ridiculous! But the tiger was cool!

      The book is excellent and presents a much better picture of Glasgow than usual. I’m not sure if the murder was quite gory enough for your taste – but you could read it and find out! (Perhaps they will…)


      • *laughs* You always get caught! It’s so hilarious, I might add. The girls! Only you would watch that! Really? Seems like something that one might find today…

        *laughing even more* No! Not CGI at all! They were real, I’m sad to inform you. Did you really hate them that much? (Well, if I was honest, the whole video was a bit ridiculous. I can’t imagine not thinking it was ridiculous.)

        Umm…I don’t need gore, promise. That Dune thing you’re reading looks realllllllllllly good.


        • I know! You’d think I’d learn! *ashamed face* Really? It’s been a while since I watched pop videos, but I was kinda hoping girls wore cargo pants these days…

          Dadblameit! My last hope is gone! One can but hope it was warm in the studio then! (You are so mean – you’re just trying to get me in even more trouble now!! Sheer naughtiness!)

          I’m so glad you said that, ‘cos I really think I’m going to start a campaign to make you read it! It’s one of the greatest sci-fi/fantasy books of all time. That’s not just my opinion – apparently it’s never really dropped off the bestseller list since it was published in 1960-something. It’s got everything – gorgeous hero, warrioress heroine, mysticism, brave fighters and giant worms! It’s the most Professorial book I’ve read in ages… I’d forgotten how good it really is. (It’s over 600 pages though…)


          • You must have been horrible at stealing candy when you were a kid… Well, to be honest, the professor doesn’t watch too many pop videos either. Oh well.

            I’m sorry to be the bringer of such bad news! Well…it was a green screen studio! I know that doesn’t answer the question. (It’s funny when you get in trouble, I admit.)

            But, see the length is kind of appealing. I like long epic-like things. Is there romance? And, then, I was researching it a bit…and there’s thousands of them! Definitely something I could get into. Def.


            • When I was kid? What makes you think I’ve stopped?? Well, if any of your videos ever have a bikini-clad damsel in them, I shall resign as PEP, stomp AND flounce! You have been warned… (Rafa once made a video with a B-C damsel in it – nearly broke poor FF’s heart!)

              You mean the tiger wasn’t really there?!? Dadblameit! There should be a law against green screens! (So glad you find it amusing! *sticks out tongue in an unladylike fashion*)

              There is romance, but it’s not soppy – I haven’t reached that bit yet, but from what I remember they become a good team. Yeah, tons of follow-ons. Again from what I remember I stopped after about four or five – they kinda went a bit downhill and got too mystical or something. But the first three or so were really good. It’s one of these things that has a huge cult following.


            • Well, do you still get punished for stealing candy? *big professorish wondering eyes* I don’t think I’d ever do that. I must admit (maybe I’m ashamed) I do like all the attention on me. No! Rafa did? Not surprised in the least. Well, now that you were betrayed by both Rafa and George… (Maybe the woman in Rafa’s video wanted to be dressed like that.)

              Well, he might have been a prop. Or CGI! I’d have to look again. I love green screens. (I find that more amusing.)

              That sounds perfect, then. Well, which should I start with, FEF?


            • Nah, I only steal from horrid little kids, and what can they do? *chuckles gnomishly* Well, good – because the Professorial c&a-ness is much more pleasing to the eye…

              I know! Men! Tchah! I need some new heroes. Thank goodness my Schwarzy would never betray me! (Admittedly it was filmed on a beach and Rafa wasn’t exactly over-dressed either. *pauses for a moment to regain mental equilibrium* It was awful!)

              But why are they green? (Pah!)

              Dune – the one I’m currently reading. These ones have to be read strictly in order. If you hurry, you could catch me up… *turns page*


            • *laughing* You’re so wicked. I bet two of the kids had very distinctive names. Like…say, Hansel and Gretal.

              *laughing more* Oh! But it was just fine that Rafa was undressed. Something hypocritical going on here…

              Well, that color green (or blue) is the farthest color from human skin color. So, it’s easy to “take out” the green and leave the main image intact.

              I’ll have to order it…


            • Yes, they were tasty! That’ll teach them to try and eat my gingerbread…

              *gasps* Not at all! I was shocked and appalled! And I was still just as shocked and appalled on the 24th vieiwng as the first… *faints*

              I see – thank you! Wouldn’t work so well on Barsoom then…


            • Hah! I bet you were the cute little boy at the door…

              *laughs shamefacedly* D’you know, I dug it out on youtube only to discover – no beach, no bikini! The steamy hotness of it must have confused my mental capabilities… I’m not at all sure you (or indeed, I) should be watching this kind of thing but here it is. Actually I think it’s a bit yucketh, and I think it’s safe to say Rafa should stick to tennis…

              I’m so glad! I was worried about them in the snow…


            • Was not! I’m mean. A mean warrior.

              *laughs* What a perfectly odd video! Yucketh. They’re both weird looking chaps, you must admit. It would have been cooler if they’d fought with swords.

              Very true. I worried about it anyway, I must say.


            • *chuckles* Sorry, but I now visualise you waving your sweet little wee handikins in the air every time you say warrior! It will pass soon… do something heroic quick!

              I kinda wish I hadn’t watched it again – I’d forgotten how icky it is. I was watching Rafa play tennis last night and it kept flashing into my mind – I might need a new tennis hero, methinks…

              I bet they wear kilts now.


            • Whoa! That worked perfectly!! Now you look mean and fierce again – whew!

              I do like Andy, but somehow he doesn’t fulfil my hero requirements. I’m lost without Rafa… maybe I’ll get over it…

              Huh! Tell that to the Highland Light Infantry!


            • *smiles proudly*

              Well, it wasn’t that badly bad. You could probably still like him. Maybe that was his girlfriend or wife. I’d hate for you to stop cheering for him.

              Never heard of them.


            • He has a lovely girlfriend – a nice girl from his home town that he’s been with since before he got famous. It’s one of the things I’ve always liked about him. (Though obviously I’m wildly jealous and hate her passionately…)

              I bet they’ve heard of you…


  5. Dearie, dearie me. The video has knocked what you wrote about the book out of my head, but I so agree with what you say about Glasgow – I am sick of hearing how violent and awful it was/is. In all the years I lived there, the worst thing that ever happened to me was that I lost (or had stolen – who knows?) my purse – and a lady on the bus paid my fare so I could get home! I’ll have to give this one a go at some point.


    • HahaHA! Try the other vid instead – much better! I know, it was a pleasure to read a book that just made Glasgow seem normal for once. And it was all places we know well – Battlefield Road, Queen’s Park, the Victoria Infirmary… you should definitely read it…


  6. Totally agree with you re Glasgow – I lost my mobile in Govan, and when I got home, phoned the police station, and it was there. Here, in a small town with less than 10,000 inhabitants, I lost my purse with £40 in it and…nothing. It was my driving licence and old photos of the kids that I really hated losing – take the money, if you have to, just hand the purse in!….Anyway, I’m going to have to revisit Peter May, although possibly not this one. I was so excited about the Lewis books, having grown up on a Scottish island, and had heard such great things…I suppose they were never going to match my expectations. I think I’ll give Entry Island a bash. I’m sure FF that you are however a CONSIDERABLE number of years younger than Mr May…!


    • I know – fiction writers just love to show Glasgow as still being the way it was back in the bad old days, but it’s no worse than any other city now, and better than many. Yes, I got my bag stolen once, and it’s all the personal stuff that matters – everything else can be replaced. Weren’t you keen on the Lewis trilogy then? I loved them – they and Entry Island are my favourite books of his. But if you weren’t keen on the Lewis ones, I’m not sure how you’ll feel about Entry Island either…

      Haha! Thanks – I’m saying nothing!


      • Absolutely better than many – and guns have never been a huge problem in the city, thankfully, with it usually confined to the very big scary gangsters. Malcolm Mackay for example was rarely in Glasgow before he wrote his novels set there (I did wonder why he never referred to areas or street names, which I love!) I think I’ll have to revisit the Lewis trilogy – high expectations are not always a good thing. My friend from Lewis loves them, though, and so does everyone else, so it’s possibly just me.


        • Yeah, I haven’t been able to bring myself to read any of Malcolm Mackay’s because I’m so tired of the way Glasgow gets misrepresented these days. Problem is, lots of people will believe it’s really like that. That sometimes happens with books, but I must say I’d have thought they’d have been right up your street…


          • I do like the Malcolm MacKay book I read, the first one in the trilogy, the long name of which escapes me…I’m tempted to get Runaway as my Twitter feed tells me it’s only £2.85 today. I think I just got ridiculously excited at a book set on the Scottish islands, and NOTHING could have lived up to that! (Especially after Mo Hayder’s Pig Island, which featured where I live, but was dire!) Great expectations are a dangerous thing; always happens to me with films. Was thinking about you earlier as I read Liam McIlvanney’s All The Colours Of The Town – wondered if you’d read it, and if so what you thought. He’s a great writer – must be genetic!


            • Really? I wonder why it’s reduced this soon? Odd!

              I’ve only read one of Liam Mcilvanney’s and unfortunately read it just after I’d read some of his dad’s stuff, and it suffered by the comparison. I thought he was very good, but he didn’t bring Glasgow to life for me the way William did. Again, too much emphasis on gangs and corruption – I didn’t recognise it as true to contemporary Glasgow, and in that one anyway, he ddidn’t catch the speech patterns the way William did. I think I’d have enjoyed it more if it had been set elsewhere…


            • Very odd, I agree – he’s very popular, so he certainly wouldn’t struggle to sell books! The McIlvanney I’m reading has a sectarian storyline, about a politician with possible links to a Loyalist terrorist organization, but for that reason it reminds me of Glasgow in the late 80s/early 90s, except it is set in the present day. I think the subject matter would limit the appeal of the book to the West of Scotland/Northern Ireland. Really, there isn’t anyone who can bring Glasgow to life like McIlvanney Sr. It’s a tough act to have to follow. If you didn’t know who his father was, though,I think it would come off very well. The daughter/sister (can’t recall her name right now) is a Doctor of French literature in Oxford or London. Recently, I’ve thought Denise Mina good at portraying the city – but I’ve noticed the more successful a writer gets, the more they struggle to portray working-class people well…as though it’s too distant for them.

              Liked by 1 person

  7. What would we do without the middle-aged men, or what would we do without the fantasies?

    I’m not much for crime novels, but from your review I’m thinking this is one I ought to try. I won’t mind at all that it’s weak in that area, and the rest sounds right up my alley.


    • Haha! I refuse to answer – I’m in enough trouble already!

      I’m a huge fan of Peter May’s writing and this is the least ‘crime novel’ of them all, so it might well be a good one to try. His characterisation is good, but it’s really his sense of place that I admire most – the settings and locations are always so fully created. And as I said in my review, for me he’s at his best when he’s writing about Scotland…


  8. Great review and on the same day as mine! I think you enjoyed it more than me because you could relate to more, especially the scenes set in Glasgow. May does do relationships well and it was great to read some between the males that seemed realistic but if like me you were expecting more of a crime novel then it took me a little longer to fully appreciate this aspect. A great read though 🙂


    • We’ll need to co-ordinate our diaries better in future! 😉 Yes, the crime element took a bit of a back seat in this one, but for me all the Glasgow stuff more than compensated. But it’s his sense of place that I’ve always enjoyed most, really – right back to the China thrillers days. I finally received The Winter Foundlings today, BTW – months after I requested form bookbridgr. If I remember rightly, that was one you recommended?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh my, the video. Too hilarious! And the book, well, I hate it when a book about relationships gets dressed up as something else because they think it will sell more books. Maybe he was ill advised. Hmmm.


    • Haha! Didn’t it make you want to dance along? I think it’s because this one is more autobiographical than his others that the crime element has been a bit sidelined, and publishers do seem to like authors to stick to one genre these days. But it’s a great read nonetheless…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Excellent review as always, but i think he should stick to writing. That video was bad, but in your future post (which led me here)you showed another video, which i feel he sounds worse, I think I need the bikinis for the distraction. harsh i know, but my father is a country music singer and that genre kin of bugs me Ha-ha.


    • Haha! You’re so mean! 😉 I liked the second video, which shed quite a lot of light on how autobiographical the book is. (And I got a good deal of entertainment from the first one!). But on the whole, I agree – I hope he’s hard at work – writing!


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