With Ordinary Thunderstorms, William Boyd tries his hand at what is new territory for him: thriller-writing. Perhaps best known for his ‘80s-era novels A Good Man in Africa and An Ice-Cream War, Boyd this time carries his readers to a very different world, that of homeless men and women trying to survive on the streets of London.
Main character Adam Kindred is in the city in search of a new job. Kindred, a university lecturer and climatology researcher, looks to return to England, the country of his birth, after having blown both his career and his marriage in the United States. In a moment of weakness, Kindred succumbed to the charms of one of his female students. When, feeling guilty about his poor judgment, Kindred tried to break off the very brief affair, he learned just how unstable the young woman is. In order to call Kindred her own, she was willing to wreck his marriage and his career - and she did exactly that.
Now, job interview completed and finding himself in a celebratory mood, Kindred is eating alone in an Italian restaurant where he makes brief contact with another lone diner. When that man, immunologist Philip Wang, leaves behind a folder of papers, Kindred volunteers to carry the papers to the man’s home. That innocent decision, made out of good will and a bit of loneliness, will cost him everything he has left, including his reputation and his very identity.
Kindred arrives at Wang’s home only to find him near death from what will soon prove to be a fatal stab wound. In a flurry of panic, Kindred stumbles around the apartment and manages to leave his fingerprints in all the wrong places, including on the handle of the murder weapon. Forced to flee the scene but realizing that he will be the prime suspect in Wang’s murder, Adam Kindred decides to hide on the streets of London until the real murderer is captured or at least charged with the crime. Kindred finds an almost perfectly obscure spot along the banks of the Thames to hide himself as he eludes both the police, who have identified him by name as a murder suspect, and the assassin who wants to kill him and retrieve the papers still in Kindred’s possession.
What keeps Ordinary Thunderstorms from working as well as William Boyd fans would expect it to are the extraordinary coincidences that keep the plot moving along and the stereotypically horrible Big Pharma villains trying to kill Kindred before he inadvertently spills the beans about what they are up to. Boyd uses so little subtlety in developing those characters, and the hit man they hire, that it is difficult for one to take his plot seriously enough to be much thrilled by it.
Boyd may as well have used stereotypical Big Oil villains who are willing to sacrifice workers and the environment in order to drill wells as cheaply as possible so they can continue to collect their huge bonuses and stock options. He might have had them even negotiate with some national government in order to have a convicted terrorist released from prison in exchange for a lucrative oil exploration contract with some oil-rich Middle Eastern country. That would be just about as believable as the activities of this big-pharma company. Hey, wait a minute…