This is a cracking good read. I’ve always wanted to say that; the expression reminds me of James Bond and Q. It is a thriller, but, being written by William Boyd, it’s a well-written, intelligent thriller and a gripping read.
The plot is centered around Adam Kindred, a young climatologist, who has come into London for a job interview. After the interview, he has a meal at a small Italian restaurant and has a chance conversation with a stranger, who leaves a file behind. Finding a hotel address on it, Adam decides to return the file to the man, who he finds lying in a pool of blood in his hotel bed, a knife stuck in his side. The dying man asks Adam to pull the knife out and, in that split-second action, Adam’s life changes forever.
In a fascinating reflection of modern-day identity, Boyd describes how Adam makes himself disappear from society, once he realises he is the only suspect for this man’s murder. He does everything he can to delete his electronic identity – throws away his cell phone, never uses an ATM, avoids CCTV cameras and hides out in a small patch of land on the Thames. Adam goes from being an up-and- coming climatologist (who has managed to make clouds rain artificially) to another of London’s hidden homeless, in a remarkably short space of time. He changes identity often, from Adam, to John 1603, to Primo Belem.
The baddies in this thriller are the management of a large pharmaceutical company who have manufactured and are about to launch a miracle drug for asthma, which unfortunately has dangerous side-effects. Adam’s dead stranger is the distinguished medical scientist who has realised that the baddie company is hiding the facts about the side-effects. And Adam has his file.
So Adam lands up being hunted by a psychotic marksman, hired by the baddie company. While on the run from him, he lives for a while with a black prostitute called Mhouse and her son, Ly-on (She is called Mhouse because her original name means ‘mouse’ in French and she didn’t know how to spell mouse. But she knew how to spell ‘house’, so just added the ‘m’ on). He gets food from a cult church, where as long as you sit through the pastor’s excruciatingly long and boring sermons, you get a good meal afterwards.There is a hint of a love affair between him and a river policewoman (I found that job fascinating).
I loved the characters in this book – many of them are quirky and funny. They are well depicted and believable in a way I could only imagine as I have never met people like them. A whole new way of life is exposed to us through Adam’s move into the London underworld. Interestingly enough, he makes great money as a beggar, enough to pay rent, buy food and pay for having sex with Mhouse.
I did find some parts of the book unbelievable, like the fact that Adam was never found by the police and that he never thought of handing himself in. And what about his wife? It bothered me that he chose just to disappear. I found the ending a bit lame. But, you know what, it was a cracking good read and there’s nothing better than that for the holidays.