Author: William Boyd
Release Date: February 1, 2011
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5
Publisher: One May evening in London, as a result of a chance encounter and a split-second decision, the young climatologist Adam Kindred loses everything – home, job, reputation, passport, credit cards, money – never to get them back.
With the police and a hit man in merciless pursuit, Adam has no choice but to go underground, joining the ranks of the disappeared, struggling to understand how his life has unraveled so spectacularly. His journey of discovery will take him along the Thames from Chelsea to the sink estates of the East End. On the way he encounters aristocrats, priests, prostitutes and a policewoman – but will he ever find himself again?
My Thoughts: William Boyd is one of the many authors whose books I've wanted to read for quite a while. When I saw Ordinary Thunderstorms on TLC Book Tours list I jumped at the chance to read it. I had no idea what to expect. What I got was an intriguing, if somewhat implausible, story about a man named Adam Kindred. Adam's life changes completely, in the blink of an eye, when he attempts to do a nice deed for Philip Wang, a man he met briefly in a cafe. Adam finds Philip Wang murdered. In a very short span, Adam makes three poor decisions that result in him running for his life in the streets of London, where he knows no one. So now, not only is Adam wanted for murder, but someone is trying to kill him.
Adam Kindred is the main character in Ordinary Thunderstorms. He's a climatologist from Arizona, a thoughtful and intelligent young man, interviewing for a job in London. He occasionally suffers from a lack of common sense and, we discover later in the novel, is prone to bad decisions.
When Adam realizes his life is in danger, everything becomes about surviving while trying to discover who murdered Wang. It no longer matters that he's a climatologist who helped build the world's largest cloud chamber. I thought it was fascinating how quickly Adam's identity as a middle-class American with a good job and all the accessories that go with that life fall away. Adam adapts to life as a vagrant and beggar.
Mr. Boyd's writing is compelling and draws us into the story. Adam is a likeable character who we relate to and sympathize with. It's not that difficult to imagine ourselves doing a nice deed like Adam did and possibly ending up in a bad situation. Therefore, I didn't find it that difficult to ignore the implausibility of some of Adam's actions, such as his talent for evading the brute who wants to kill him and the authorities while managing to find an ideal place to hide and still feed himself. Bathing is, apparently, a more difficult problem!
"It was five days since his grotesque, brief encounter with Dr. Philip Wang in Anne Boleyn House - five days that had allowed his beard to grow, dense and dark and, he hoped all-disguising. The itch around his jaw, throat and lips was just one amongst the many itches that dominated his waking life. He hadn't stepped under a shower or into a bath since he had prepared himself for his interview at Imperial College."
There are several other characters who figure prominently in the story, including Ingram Fryzer, the head of a pharmaceutical company at the center of Adam's problems. Fryzer and his brother-in-law, Lord Ivo Redcastle, provide a comic aspect to the book. Fryzer is an older man used to having a lot of money and living a good life without working hard. He has somehow, to his surprise, allowed his company to be used by some unscrupulous men for financial gain. He's a confused, pathetic, trusting man who wants everything to work out well with little effort on his part. Meanwhile, Redcastle, who sits on the board of Fryzer’s company, is an idiot who wants a lot of money whatever he has to do to get it. He comes up with one scheme after another yet he's up to his eyeballs in debt. Then there's Jonjo Case, a violent, mercenary thug trained by the army who now works for a security firm killing people.
The chapters alternate between each character's part of the story until the different threads start coming together. Every one of the characters touches Adam's life, directly or indirectly, as he tries to determine who is behind the murder and restore his identity all while trying to remain alive. And though it may require some suspension of belief to accept Adam's newfound ability to avoid a professional hit man, what does feel real is the way he relishes his new life, particularly when he‘s no longer living on the street. From there he develops, what would otherwise seem a very unlikely romance with a police woman. This is one of Boyd's skills - to combine a character's change in a believable way and make it flow into hard to believe scenarios.
There are several themes in this story but none greater than an individual’s identity. Through Adam we see how easy it is to lose your identity and, how important it is to retain it. As soon as it’s gone, Adam fights to get his identity back. While living on the street, Adam meets other struggling men at a local church. The homeless men are assigned the name “John” with a corresponding number. Adam is known as “John 1603”. These men have no job or anything else to identify them, so for all intents and purposes they are their number. Without an identity these men feel as if they don’t exist. Adam realizes how easy it is for people who live on the streets to disappear simply because they don‘t have an identity.
Through the mercenary, Boyd explores another aspect of identity, namely, how a person’s identity, (in this case, viz. a job) can become too important. JonJo Case considers himself a killer, not a man who kills as part of his job. Killing is something he has to do. These are just a few of the examples of identity found in Ordinary Thunderstorms. Several of the other characters present issues of identity in their own lives, through their behavior as well as in their interaction with others. I think it’s a fascinating topic and Boyd does a good job incorporating it into his novel.
Ordinary Thunderstorms is an intriguing and entertaining story. It's very well written, the narrative moves along at a good pace and it includes a captivating cast of characters. I recommend it but be aware that you will have to suspend belief in certain instances. This isn't a thriller or a mystery, it's a book about questions of identity and Adam's story is the riveting framework in which Boyd chose to present his ideas. William Boyd is a prolific author who has written several highly-recommended novels as well as short stories and some non-fiction. For more about him see his page at Bloomsbury Publishing.
I want to thank TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to read and review Ordinary Thunderstorms.