Review: RUNAWAY by Peter May

RunawayPeterMayAudioI knew absolutely nothing about this story going in. I plucked it from Audible’s new releases section when on the hunt for something for my ears because the cover has the same look and feel as the covers of May’s other recent works and I assumed it would be somewhat similar. Now I think that cover is at best misguided. At worst deliberate misdirection by unhelpful publishers. RUNAWAY is more a coming of age story than a crime one. For me at least its not entirely successful on either front.

It is narrated by Jack McKay, a Glaswegian in his late 60’s. A present-day event prompts Jack and those of his friends still alive to re-create the time when, as teenagers, they ran away from Glasgow and all the boredom it represented to the excitement of London. Where life as a successful rock band awaited. Or did it?

In a book that is three-quarters flashback we learn about the early adventures of Jack and his friends in some detail. Probably more detail than is needed. To begin with I was engaged with learning about the five boys, their reasons for wanting to leave the city and was quite keen to read of the events that would happen to them in the big smoke. But before they reach London they have to endure a rather alarming (and frankly unbelievable) series of encounters with n’er do wells and these incidents bored me a little. The dangers were so easy to spot (not least due to the obvious foreshadowing) and there were long passages of fighting and running and hiding and waiting and pointlessly recriminating with each other. My attention strayed.

On reflection some of my lack of interest is my fault. There are a few subjects guaranteed to make me yawn and one of them is fight sequences of any sort. Honestly only one fist has to swing and my brain switches off. Can’t be helped. But some of my lack of interest is down to the author. Such a big deal is made early on that there are dramatic events which will take place in London that the reader is conditioned to want to get to those events. Sooner rather than later please. And the whole experience is not really helped by the fact that when we, finally, do get to the pointy end it’s a bit of an anti-climax. For me the actual event that was meant to have sparked this whole story just lacked…oomph. For want of a better word. “Is that it?” was the thought wandering across my mind in a mildly annoyed manner.

As far as characters go Jack is nicely drawn and as an elderly gent has a healthily humorous outlook on life and the inevitable decline associated with ageing. His relationship with his grandson, whom he coerces into aiding the elderly gang’s repeat of their running away, is rather lovely. There’s only one female character of any substance (this is a bloke-filled book) and I suppose she is well drawn too. Though there’s a bit too much of an “I need men to protect/save me” sensibility about her for me to find Rachel completely engaging. I admit though that this is probably a bit unfair of me…it’s not that she’s not believable…more that I wish she wasn’t.

After finishing the book I trawled through the recent posts collected in my RSS reader to see if I’d missed any discussions of this much-admired author’s latest work. As it’s release date is actually mid-January (not sure why it was available in audio format a month earlier) I only found one mention but this Shots article told me a lot about why the book didn’t work for me. It seems RUNAWAY is, at least in part, based on May’s own experiences. Sometimes this works well but on this occasion I’m not sure it did. Though perhaps if you’re 60+, something of a music geek and nostalgic it does (I’m none of those things). For me it felt a bit too self-indulgent. Like someone telling you their dreams. OK not that bad (I did listen all the way through after all). But not really a big enough story to warrant being written down. But of course, and as always, other opinions are available.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Peter Forbes
Publisher Quercus Books [2014]
Length 10 hours 34 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone

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4 Responses to Review: RUNAWAY by Peter May

  1. Thanks as ever, Bernadette, for your candid review. I’m sorry to hear that Runaway didn’t do it for you. And I couldn’t agree more about fight sequences; I have a very low threshold for them myself. I think May does draw very good characters, so it’s good to hear that in the main, the characters worked for you.


  2. FictionFan says:

    I enjoyed it considerably more than you although I agree both that it’s barely a crime novel and that the ending wasn’t strong enough to justify the foreshadowing. But as a Glaswegian who grew up in the area he was discussing, I found the added element of nostalgia gave the book the spark it might otherwise have lacked for me.


  3. Belle Wong says:

    I like Peter May, but I really do need a very nice bit of mystery in my reads. Plus I’m not that fond of coming of age novels. This one probably isn’t for me.


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