Monday, September 10, 2012

William Boyd writes another compelling thriller.

I liked Boyd’s most recent novel, and I have gone back to read some others.  This one is great.

Ordinary Thunderstorms

William Boyd’s Ordinary Thunderstorms (432 pages, Harper Perennial, $15.99) was published last year.  It tells the story of Adam Kindred, a handsome young British academic, who has returned to London from Arizona, where he got his doctorate and was working on a project concerned with seeding clouds for rain. 

He has just had a job interview and is feeling great about the world when, like other Boyd heroes, he is caught in a tailspin. Befriending a solo diner, he follows him home and then burst in on what is clearly a murder.  Before he escapes the scene, though, he does just enough to make himself a suspect.  So he takes the only sensible course: he runs.

He gets no farther than his hotel, however, when he realizes that he is being followed; and after some effects swipes with the dead man’s briefcase, he is off and running both from the police, who already list him as prime suspect, and the murderer, who has traced him to the hotel and is now after him once again.

Adam does what no one thinks possible in this day and age: he falls off the grid.  Hiding in a bit of waste ground by the Chelsea Bridge, he throws away his phone, avoids ATMs, and uses the little cash, at first what he had in his pockets and later what he gets by panhandling.  Once his beard grows in and he starts looking like a homeless person, he can get around fairly easily.

Of course, living on the streets as he does, he also comes in for some tough handling in some of the rougher ghetto districts, but he is almost miraculously befriended by a black prostitute, who is upset that he didn’t have any money to offer but nevertheless offers him a place to stay when the Chelsea spot seems compromised.

This woman has a young son whom Adam enjoys, and as he hides out in her flat, he and the boy become quite close.  Nothing is easy for Adam, however, and even though he’s managed to avoid the cops, some other toughs are hot on his trail.

As he runs and tries to put some kind of life together, he recognizes that some of the material he took from the guy who was murdered expose faulty drug trials that may be endangering the lives of young asthma sufferers.  This becomes a kind of crusade, and as he builds a case against the drug companies, his life starts to have new meaning.

This is a great moral tale, as the academic builds his life up again from the very bottom, but is also a nail-biting kind of thriller because Adam is often only a hair’s breath away from capture or exposure.

Boyd tells a wonderful tale here.  The ending is satisfying and everything that builds up to it is of a caliber that I can now come to expect from this fabulous writer.

William Boyd

Ordinary Thunderstorms is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

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