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by William Boyd
Harper, January 2010
403 pages
ISBN: 0061876747

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Adam Kindred is a promising young climatologist who is in London for a job interview with a prestigious university. After the interview, he is in the mood for an Italian dinner. If only he had chosen Chinese or Greek, perhaps his life wouldn't have gone completely down the tubes. At the restaurant, he meets another lone diner with whom he has a brief conversation. After the meal, he realizes that the other man, Dr Philip Wang, has left behind a file folder. Not having anything better to do, Adam decides to return the folder and perhaps share a drink with Philip. But when he enters the apartment, he finds that he has interrupted a murder and that Dr Wang is in his death throes. Foolishly, Adam removes the knife from Wang's gut. He means to go to the police, but is deterred when he is almost attacked at his hotel. From that point on, he is a desperate man on the run, a man who has to give up everything just to survive.

One of the first things that Adam does is to try to find a safe place to shelter. He builds a little niche for himself by the Chelsea Bridge, and for the first time in his life sleeps rough. He can't use his credit cards or bank accounts; ultimately, he survives by begging. He has rapidly moved from thriving professional to scruffy homeless man, leaving behind a life of relative luxury for one with very few assets—and surprisingly not missing his old life very much at all! Several encounters with others prove fortuitous, one resulting in his association with the Church of John Christ which provides him with some temporary shelter with a woman who is down on her luck and her young son. Eventually, he takes on another person's identity and is able to hold a job and even rent an apartment. But that doesn't mean that the danger that he is in isn't always there; an extremely motivated hired killer is always one step behind him.

ORDINARY THUNDERSTORMS was a fascinating study of a resourceful young man who relies on his wits and a bit of luck to survive. He realizes that most of his problems have to do with the meeting with Wang—what was in the folder that was so threatening that it led to his murder? Using the skills he had in his former life, Adam researches Wang's professional accomplishments and finds that he was on the verge of exposing the malfeasance of a major pharmaceutical company which was about to put an asthma drug on the market despite the fact that drug trials had shown it to have problems.

Boyd did a masterful job of building a suspenseful narrative with a riveting plot and flowing prose. I found the book quite un-putdownable. The preface of the book points out that ordinary thunderstorms have the capacity to transform themselves into multi-cell storms of great ferocity. That's a perfect analogy for what happened to Adam, a perfectly ordinary man who is transformed into a person of great complexity. ORDINARY THUNDERSTORMS is a remarkable book, and I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, March 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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