Running Away by Leslie Thomas Methuen $272 IT is startling to realise that Leslie Thomas has produced more than two dozen books since he first ribaldly entertained us with The Virgin Soldiers. He has developed enormously in the process as this latest novel shows. This story is entertainingly told, moves from wry to outrageous, is often facile but sometimes penetrating. Nicholas Boulting is the author of one highly-acclaimed book but he has ground to a halt trying to produce a successor. With his marriage floundering at the same time, he runs away from his difficulties. He becomes obsessed by a French woman he encounters almost momentarily, but she disappears. The search for her becomes his life and his new book. That is the barest of bare bones of a story packed with characters and incident. Certainly this is an untidy book. Leslie Thomas is only too happy to pursue sub-plots for a time and then seemingly get bored and discard them, scrabbling later to re-incorporate them in his main plot. This makes the structure of the book creak a bit, but does not make the work as a whole any less readable.