William Boyd is a literary craftsman whose skills keep the reader enthralled and informed from the first page to the last. He is the antidote to all the overpraised writers fawned over erroneously on both sides of the Atlantic in the current publishing climate of `name' and `brand' because they lucked into (often underserved) popularity. Boyd is the real thing: a writer.
`Ordinary Thunderstorms' (the metaphor reflects the way in which simple climatic phenomena can grow in complexity to major events) is brilliantly observed and meticulously written. No reader outside the U.K. should stay away simply because it deals significantly with London, the Thames and their centuries-old mysteries. It explains much that curious and intelligent readers anywhere would want to know about any major world city, a stunning insider view that strips modern London to its truths.
Boyd takes us into the times, places and events with unerring skill, drawing out the characters with exquisite detail of appearance, speech, environment, motivation and behaviour. This is a thriller of extraordinary dimensions, and one can only hope it will be filmed, to provide (yet again) counterpoint to the mindless drivel that passes increasingly for movie entertainment these days.
I will not reveal the plot. Other reviewers have done so, mostly from the book jacket. The suspense is excruciating, and who would deny a reader that pleasure? Suffice it to say that Boyd traces the life and transformation into other worlds and identities of a young British college professor, an expert on climate, newly returned to the U.K. from the U.S., dragged unsuspecting into a murder for which he is considered guilty. And he learns survival, down to its core.
As it evolves, the story encompasses a pharmaceutical-corporation deception of global intricacy, an ex-SAS murder-for-hire thug, a young black prostitute and her son, a revivalist mission, and the Metropolitan police. Every character is memorable, every chapter turns the screw tighter, until the reader is caught up in the plot intricacies at ever-heightened levels of tension and anxiety. In this, Boyd shows his skills as a writer of remarkable dimensions: it all fits, like the structure of a complex pharmaceutical molecule, and the necessary suspensions of disbelief are few and forgivable. This is entertainment at rarified levels of execution.
Boyd does one other thing, and it is important. As in all his books, he never overwrites. He uses just enough unaffected words and appropriate levels of detail to tell his story. In this (read some of my other reviews, for example on Amazon/U.S. for amplification) he provides a model for other writers who apparently can't stop themselves from telling us too much, in too lengthy and repetitive forms, and who seem to be in love with the sound of their own voices. Boyd "tells it like it is" as directly as he can. He richly deserves all the praise that is heaped on him.