… and he rode up the escalator to the first floor and selected a seat in the corner of the cafeteria with a view of the escalator and the small concourse
Never mind the escalator at London City Airport. Following his reading at this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival, William Boyd had a mountain to climb. Let me tell you why. He read the first chapter, in which the protagonist is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. As was the style. Boyd setup the scene well and then, at the climactic moment, inserted such a clumsy phrase that I had to suppress a disbelieving giggle. Did Boyd really write that? I’m going to quote it although it may not have quite the same effect if you haven’t been caught up in the action of the preceding 7 pages.
Without further thought Adam gripped the knife and drew it out, as easily as if from a scabbard. It was a breadknife, he noticed, as a surge of released blood followed the withdrawal, travelling up the blade and wetting Adam’s knuckles, warmly.
“I’ll call the police,” Adam said and placed the knife down, unthinkingly wiping his dripping fingers on the coverlet.
“The file,” Wang said, fingers twitching, moving, as if tapping at an invisible keyboard,
“I have it.”
“Whatever you do, don’t-” Wang died then, with what seemed like a short gasp of exasperation.
Corny or what? And I have so many problems with “Wang died then”.
I’m going to do the charitable thing and blame the editor. Not the author because Boyd doubles as an author and a screen writer and I suspect that occasionally he slips between the two. “Wang died then” in a screenplay, wouldn’t be misplaced. It’s a stage direction. In a novel, however, it’s too spare, sparse, flat, sudden. As for the corniness, there are some chapter endings – dare I say it – that Dan Brown would be proud of but which are not at all worthy of the writer of Brazzaville Beach and Any Human Heart. You’ve got to wonder about that editor – or has Boyd got to the point in his career when his work is no longer edited?
Rant over, let’s concentrate on its strengths.
Ordinary Thunderstorms is very much a London novel with more than a passing nod to Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend in that the river Thames is central, almost a character in itself. The novel also works well as a contemporary social history. How would you survive in London without a dime? Which is the situation the protagonist faces while trying to stay ahead of an assassin desperate to silence the only witness. This plot is very enjoyable – the cast of characters that Adam Kindred meets in homeless and socially-deprived areas of London are by turns eccentric, seedy, colourful, criminal.
That criminality paralleled, of course, by corruption in the City. This narrative somewhat predictable, and when reading it I was always comparing it, unfavourably, with John Le Carre’s The Constant Gardener. However, I did enjoy the twist with regards to the health of the Chairman. I thought he was being poisoned with his own medicine …… I appreciated too the injections of moral ambiguity. The hero doesn’t come out untarnished and the bad guy proves his humanity, although perhaps that final incident with the dog is a just too twee.
You see my problem here. I start a sentence with a compliment only to take it back in a subclause. Yet overall I enjoyed the experience. It’s a competent thriller. Just not as good as Restless.