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Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd
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Ordinary Thunderstorms (2009)

by William Boyd

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English (64)  French (3)  Dutch (2)  German (2)  All languages (71)
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
Climatologist Adam Kindred arrives in London from America for a job interview from after a sexual indiscretion has ruined his marriage and his academic career there. Dining alone in a Chelsea restaurant, he strikes up a conversation with fellow lone diner Philip Wang. When Wang, an immunologist, leaves the restaurant he also leaves a sheaf of papers behind. Adam, attempts to return the papers to his new acquaintance's flat only to find him with a knife sticking out of his side. Kindred subsequently does two incredibly stupid things: he removes the knife, hastening Wang's death and ensuring that his fingerprints are on the murder weapon, and then after hearing noises in the flat going on the run. Pursued by Wang's killer and the police he decides to shun the trappings of society and go underground living as a vagrant. Once there Kindred's intelligence and self-preservation instincts means that he is gradually able to construct some semblance of civilised life.

Thus the novel begins as a thriller with an innocent man mistaken for a murderer who finds himself caught up in the murky world of major pharmaceuticals and drug patenting. However, it soon becomes apparent that identity and self worth are also important factors in this book.

This idea seems to affect the author as much as the characters because I felt that Boyd struggled to decide what sort of book he actually wanted to write. Set along the banks of the Thames the action seems to meander along rather than rapidly flow downstream as you would expect in an out and out thriller. The twists and turns of the plot feel forced rather than free flowing.

The chapters generally alternate between Kindred and Jonjo Case, the real murderer, as they take part in in a cat and mouse chase but are on occasions interwoven with the stories of a few minor characters, ranging from a semi-literate prostitute struggling to survive as a single parent living on a London sink estate, a charlatan preacher who provides free meals to those willing to listen to his sermons, a policewoman (who also adds the love interest of this novel) who lives with her father on a house boat, and the fat cat owners of a large pharmaceutical company. These sub-plots rather suggest that the author wanted to write a critique on London life, the differences between the disparate social classes but this idea is hinted at rather than fully developed. This is a real shame because I believe that Boyd had a real opportunity to shine a light on the murky, lawless, subculture of a London sink estate and the alienation felt by those who feel on the outside of society not to mention their desire to survive no matter what obstacles life puts in front of them. Consequently Kindred's own character comes across as lacking any real depth.

This books therefore seems to fall between two very differing genres but that all said and done it is well written making this an enjoyable piece of escapism. I simply feel that it was a missed opportunity and could have been so much better. I have the author's A Good Man in Africa and Armadillo in my possession so look forward to reading them at some point. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Feb 11, 2019 |
There were some good moments, but this is not one of Boyd's best. This comment does not mean that I won't continue to read him. I will. ( )
  JohnJGaynard | Dec 31, 2018 |
Very good
  Hjordis | Jun 7, 2018 |
I picked this book up randomly at the library when I went to check out some more Calvino, so I had no expectations, really, other than what one usually expects out of a rather trashy mystery thriller novel. I was really disappointed when it was even worse than that! I didn't finish this book - the protagonist makes every wrong move, with flawed and just bad logic behind it. The characters were flat, vulgarity and gore were thrown in gratuitously and just ruined the fast paced flow of a mystery novel. I'm one to give trashy crime novels a chance when I don't want to read anything overly challenging, but this was a complete disappointment. ( )
  soradsauce | Nov 17, 2017 |
Ordinary thunderstorms can sometimes turn into violent and destructive super-cell storms. William Boyd runs with this metaphor in "Ordinary Thunderstorms," his thinking-man's thriller from 2010.

Adam Kindred, a climatologist in London for a job interview, has a casual restaurant conversation with another scientist, a drug researcher. When Philip Wang departs he leaves behind a file, which Adam finds. It has Wang's address and phone number on it, so Adams calls him and offers to drop the file off at his place. This minor inconvenience is the ordinary thunderstorm.

When he arrives at the flat he finds the door open and Wang with a knife in his chest. He pulls out the knife, Wang dies and just like that Adam finds himself the chief suspect in a murder case, his fingerprints on the murder weapon and his name on the visitor register. But this is now a super-cell thunderstorm, and Adam's even greater danger is that Wang's killer, an ex-soldier called Jonjo, is hiding in the flat and, because of that file, wants to kill Adam, too.

Boyd keeps up the tension in the novel's first few pages, but after that those who make a steady diet of thrillers, with their constant action and murders every other chapter, may get bored with "Ordinary Thunderstorms," for the center of this storm is prolonged lull, though hardly an uninteresting one for more discerning readers. The author takes us into the London underground, not the subway system but rather the shadowy world into which countless people disappear each year.

Adam finds it amazingly easy to disappear from view, even in a city that has cameras everywhere. He supports himself by begging in the street, avoids using his real name or his credit cards, grows a beard and, for a time, sleeps outside. Gradually he forms a new identity, gets a job as a hospital porter and begins to probe the mystery of what got Philip Wang murdered.

Some of this may strain belief, as when Adam starts dating a police officer and she falls in love with him without bothering to probe his past even a little bit. Still it is fascinating stuff. The novel ends with the suggestion that, while this particular storm may be over, another one may be just over the horizon. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Aug 9, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
That's what I thought when I finished it. I thought, "It's not the way a thriller writer would do it." But I thought fair dos, he's trying to do something different. It's not something that I would necessarily criticise him for.
 
This is an uneven novel. Yet Boyd’s restless inventiveness sustained me throughout and the ending proved satisfying, not least because Boyd doesn’t resolve the plot fully. He lets some stories flow beyond the last page, like the Thames.
added by Shortride | editBloomberg, James Pressley (Sep 25, 2009)
 
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Epigraph
Ordinary thunderstorms have the capacity to transform themselves into multi-cell storms of ever growing complexity. Such multi-cell storms display a marked increase in severity and their lifetime can be extended by a factor of ten or more. The grandfather of all thunderstorms, however, is the super-cell thunderstorm. It should be noted that even ordinary thunderstorms are capable of mutating into super-cell storms. These storms subside very slowly.
--Storm Dynamics and Hail Cascades
by L. D. Sax and W. S. Dutton
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For Susan
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Let us start with the river - all things begin with the river and we shall probably end there, no doubt - but let's wait and see how we go.
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One May evening in London, Adam Kindred, a young climatologist in town for a job interview, is feeling good about the future as he sits down for a meal at a little Italian bistro. He strikes up a conversation with a solitary diner at the next table, who leaves soon afterward. With horrifying speed, this chance encounter leads to a series of malign accidents, through which Adam loses everything—home, family, friends, job, reputation, passport, credit cards, cell phone—never to get them back.

The police are searching for him. There is a reward for his capture. A hired killer is stalking him. He is alone and anonymous in a huge, pitiless modern city. Adam has nowhere to go but down—underground. He decides to join that vast army of the disappeared and the missing who throng London’s lowest levels as he tries to figure out what to do with his life and struggles to understand the forces that have made it unravel so spectacularly. Adam’s quest will take him all along the river Thames, from affluent Chelsea to the gritty East End, and on the way he will encounter all manner of London’s denizens—aristocrats, prostitutes, evangelists, and policewomen—and version after new version of himself.
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Adam Kindred is in London for a job interview and looking at a bright future. Then he has a chance meeting in a restaurant that results in a series of actions that cost him his family, his money, his very identity. Utterly alone, Adam joins London's underground society of dispossessed and tries to figure out what happened to his life.… (more)

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