It’s billed as a ‘gripping crime thriller’, but Quintin Jardine’s latest novel is something else, more a fictional life story with a crime theme emerging in the last half of the book.
We’re told there is something ‘dark’ in the tale of Xavier Aislado, a young Scottish gentle giant who has Catalan blood, a rich kid footballer who becomes an intrepid journalist. But the pace of the first half of the novel is too measured to ‘thrill’ the reader with anticipation over secrets to be exposed. It’s a novel of two halves.
It foregoes pace and quick kicks in favour of a slow-burn that cleverly hides the shocks to come in its narrative. Xavi, as the hero is known, is brought up in Edinburgh, his father being a cold and wealthy businessman and his grandmother a forbidding presence. His mother abandoned the set-up when Xavi was young. His evolving relationships with his father and grandmother, who move back to Spain following General Franco’s death leaving Xavi behind, are intriguing and offer a steady stream of revelations about his past. Certainly, Xavi has an interesting life as initially a promising goalkeeper with Hearts, along with his love for the beautiful Grace, and his passion for journalism, which takes over his life when his sporting career is cut short.
It is Xavi who talks us through the twists of his life in a first-person narrative, while the elliptical approach to his story is completed by short italicised passages in which various figures discuss Xavi. The novel is meant to be Xavier Aislado’s life as pulled together by ‘Quintin Jardine’ based on notes from Aislado and associates, including Bob Skinner, a hero from one of Jardine’s other series of crime books.
Events take a turn for the bloody just over half way through the novel, when Xavi gets his first tip-off as a local reporter (a little implausibly, he seems to be an accomplished newshound on his first two days in the job, notching up his first national scoop). The story is about drug dealing in a rough school, but once Xavi’s exposé is published the fallout is grisly.
The Loner is a genre-defying novel, with a depth beyond the remit of many crime stories. Half of it is an exploration of a character with an intriguing background who ends up as a resourceful, if somewhat humourless and earnest, crime-busting reporter. The revelations that come in the closing sections are lurid and sometimes stretch the characters we think we know too far. But having been a witness to so much of Xavi’s eventful life, the reader is captivated when the powerful, violent climax comes.