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Ordinary Thunderstorms    by William Boyd order for
Ordinary Thunderstorms
by William Boyd
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Wrong place, wrong time, wrong instinctive reactions - that's what ejects thirty-something climatologist Adam Kindred from the comfortable life he's known to that of a fugitive, surviving well below society's radar. Adam has just completed an interview for a research fellowship at Imperial College when he makes the fateful decision to enter a small Italian bistro near Chelsea Bridge. There he chats briefly with a fellow diner, Dr. Philip Wang, who leaves behind a plastic folder. When Adam offers to drop off the file at the immunologist's flat, he initiates a chain of events that will change him forever.

Adam arrives to find the good doctor dying from a knife wound. Hearing the killer in another room - and foolishly implicating himself by pulling out the knife - Adam flees the scene with the file. Returning to his modest hotel, he encounters the assassin once more, surviving by sheer luck. He runs away from both the killer and the police who have concluded that he did the foul deed. At first Adam concentrates on survival, creating a secret refuge 'in an attenuated triangle of waste ground by Chelsea Bridge' and living on baked beans. After he's mugged, a marginal Samaritan sends him to the Church of John Christ in Southwark, where he meets other homeless men and earns hearty meals by listening to lengthy sermons. He applies his ingenuity to begging and makes a relatively decent living.

While Adam is plummeting to society's depths, readers are introduced to those who sent him there. They control the pharmaceutical company that employed Dr. Wang and is about to deploy a seemingly miraculous new asthma medicine. Bullish officials in Calenture-Deutz take orders from Alfredo Rilke, CEO of multinational Rilke Pharmaceutical, which is negotiating a takeover. They set Wang's killer, Jonjo Case, on Adam's trail. Adam begins moving back up in the world as a serendipitous sequence of events gives him a new identity and a job as a hospital porter. This puts him in a position to dig into Dr. Wang's file - and a cover-up is revealed. At the same time, he meets and forms a close relationship with Rita Nashe, the police officer who investigated the original murder (and doesn't know she's dating the man believed to be the perpetrator).

Much of the action in this intricate and intelligent thriller occurs near the river Thames, which almost becomes another character. The well conceived, well developed plot explores our six degrees of separation from each other, and how an individual might devolve after suddenly losing all the trappings of social identity. Ordinary Thunderstorms is a remarkable novel, highly recommended. And if you wonder about the title, a quote at the beginning says it all: 'Ordinary thunderstorms have the capacity to transform themselves into multi-cell storms of ever growing complexity ... These storms subside very slowly.'

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