THE LONER - Quintin Jardine
A standalone novel from the author best known for his Bob Skinner series, THE LONER was a real surprise package.
Styled as an autobiographical account of the author's friend, journalist Xavier (Xavi) Ailsado, THE LONER is partially the recollections of the central character, partially the observations of the narrator. It's an affectionate telling of Xavi's life, from his beginnings in Scotland, the son of a local mother and a Spanish refugee. His father and grandparents having settled in Edinburgh after they were forced to flee from Franco's regime. It's a story of family that stays together and family that fractures all at once.
Xavi is a gentle giant of a man, raised by his grandmother, until she and his father, a successful businessman return to Spain, leaving him with money, a place to live, a real connection with them and the chance to grow into his own person. Despite his potential as a professional footballer, Xavi is not that upset when injury ends that possible career, as exposure to newspapers via his father's latest business venture - the media in Spain - has convinced him that journalism is what he really wants to do. His life seems comfortably, and somewhat boringly predestined, with a childhood sweetheart fiancé, a good job, a place to live, and a secure self-image and almost abnormal control for a young man of his age.
Told with great restraint, there is, however, a sense that something is not quite right drawing the reader in. It was actually quite surprising how quickly the book engaged, and kept the reader's interest, particularly as there isn't a crime up front, there's no investigation, there's nothing of the normal stylings that you expect in some measure from crime fiction. Told mostly from Xavi's viewpoint, interspersed with snippets that give the reader just enough clues or hints to wonder, the book is a slow burner. The structure is also intriguing, opening with a "co-author" note from Jardine, taking off in an autobiographical style, heading into the ups and downs of what seems, on the face of it, to be a reasonably ordinary life, not only is it very hard to tell where it's heading, it rapidly became just about impossible to not be intrigued.
Obviously, THE LONER is something a little different. It's not about the investigation of a crime or the identification of a perpetrator. It's not about justice or explanation or retribution. It's the story of strongly-held beliefs, love, and how truth can be manipulated, even if sometimes with the best of intentions. It's a character study and Xavi is the sort of character that many readers will feel a direct, close, personal and real connection with. It's also not a particularly straight-forward or even an always easy book to read. But it is a very memorable one.
Xavier (Xavi) Aislado is a gentle giant, half Spanish and half Scot, brought up in Edinburgh by his grandmother Paloma Puig, a ferocious old lady whose grim brand of care sees him into his teens, until his father moves back to Spain, leaving him to grow up fast. His emergence into manhood is colorful and eventful. After a short career as a professional footballer, he turns to journalism with a bloody introduction to the trade, as his first assignment ends in violent death. Inevitably, Xavi's life and his love become entwined with his work, and he is immersed in tragedy, loss, and betrayal, going halfway around the world in search of a truth that may destroy him. Quintin Jardine’s evocation of Xavi’s fated world, of the towering being that is Grandma Paloma, and of his love, the beautiful, willful and hypnotic Grace Starshine, is an unforgettable story of a man riding a one-way train to oblivion. Will he escape, before it hits the buffers, full-speed?