Just an ordinary thriller

2009-12-09 00:00


Ordinary Thunderstorms

William Boyd


CROSS John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps with John Le Carre’s The Constant Gardener and you get some idea of the style as well as the content of this thriller from William Boyd.

Boyd is normally snobbishly categorised as a “literary writer”, best known for his earlier novels The Ice Cream War, New Confessions and Brazzaville Beach. His last outing, Restless, ventured into the Alan Furst-dominated territory of wartime espionage and was named Costa ­novel of the year.

With Ordinary Thunderstorms Boyd has gone for a contemporary setting. Climatologist Adam Kindred, recently arrived in London for a job interview, accidentally stumbles on a murder in progress. He flees the scene but soon finds himself the would-be prey of a relentless hit man as well as prime suspect for the murder. Solution? He drops out of society (rather like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher) and lives below the radar on the banks of the Thames until he creates a new identity for himself.

While Kindred is busy fighting for survival, Boyd weaves together ­parallel plotlines involving a pharmaceutical company about to launch a new wonder drug and a young policewoman on the Marine Support Unit that patrols the Thames.

For a while you think the book might actually be about something — the fragility of the self, the evils of electronic surveillance, corruption in big business, climate change — but no, it’s really just a thriller and at 400 pages is way too overwritten (Boyd likes his adjectives) for its content. The fact that room is left for a sequel left this reader totally underwhelmed.

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