In London in 2015, an old man who has been a fugitive for many years is murdered. In Glasgow, Jack Mackay, a retiree, is summoned by his old friend Maurie, who is dying of cancer. Maurie makes a request, or more of a demand. The murdered man did not do the crime everyone thinks he did. For that reason, Jack must get the old band together, and they must take Maurie to London before he dies. That’s the premise of Runaway, by Peter May.
It’s a crazy request, but Jack is at loose ends in his life and has nothing better to do. Also, he’s curious. Fifty years ago, the friends were in a rock band, and they all ran off on impulse, to find fame and riches in London. What happened was traumatic, and left Jack with many unresolved questions that still haunt him.
Soon the old men are on the road, in a “borrowed” car, with Jack’s couch potato grandson dragooned into driving. As they follow the route they traveled half a century earlier, the reader follows Jack’s recollections of the original journey, the central event and great tragedy of all their lives.
I was uncomfortable with this book at first. I feared it would be yet another celebration of the glories of the Love Generation, with its supposed idealism and courage. But what the band encounters in this story is much closer to the actual truth – passions running riot, drugged confusion, and cynical predation by exploiters. Jack is victimized, and victimizes others himself, to his eternal regret.
It’s a sad story, but insightful, and – in the view of this survivor of the era – pretty authentic. I also ought to mention that on one particular social issue – I won’t spoil it for you – it takes exactly the right side.
This wasn’t an easy novel for me to read, but in the end I found it rewarding and enriching. Cautions for language, sexual situations, and disturbing content.