Book review: The Loner by Quintin Jardine

Like a game of the Scottish football he so loves, Quintin Jardine’s intriguing new stand-alone thriller is a novel of two halves.

Best known for his entertaining Bob Skinner detective series, popular crime author Jardine branches out here into a whole new ball game.

The story of gentle giant Xavier (Xavi) Aislado, half Spanish, half Scot, brought up in Edinburgh by his ferocious Catalan grandmother, seems to defy traditional genres or labels.

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His complex life appears to us either through the testament of various associates, including the author himself, or via Xavi’s own first-person narrative.

What sets out as a biographical character study of the professional footballer turned journalist with a burgeoning career and an adored childhood sweetheart suddenly turns into a full-speed, action-packed, murderous adventure story.

Inevitably and remorselessly, as dark secrets unfold and Xavi’s life, love and work start to dangerously entwine, a tale of mystery evolves into a page-turning series of revelations with jaw-dropping twists and turns and a welcome cameo appearance by Bob Skinner no less.

Xavi’s father is a cold and wealthy businessman whose parents fled the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s to forge a new life in Edinburgh.

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His father spends long periods away from home pursuing his pub chain business so when nine-year-old Xavi’s mother walks out on the family, his is left to the care of his grandmother, Paloma Puig, a forbidding woman with ‘a scowl like a black flag draped across a coffin.’

When his father and grandmother move back to Spain following Franco’s death, Xavi seems settled in a promising career as a professional footballer and has the love of his childhood sweetheart Grace to support him.

But when his sporting career is cut short, he turns to journalism where he is drawn into a dark world of drugs, prostitution and murder.

Inevitably, remorselessly, as his past unravels, Xavi’s life and his love become bound up with his work and he becomes immersed in a story of tragedy, loss and betrayal, going halfway round the world in search of a truth that may destroy him.

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Will he escape his one-way train to oblivion before it hits the buffers?

Packed with characters from every walk of life and a storyline that moves from the dark streets of Edinburgh’s underbelly to the sunlit countryside of Spain, The Loner sees Jardine as his enigmatic best.

(Headline, paperback, £6.99)

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