Ordinary Thunderstorms

A thrilling, plot-twisting novel from the author of the Richard & Judy bestseller Restless, winner of the Costa Novel of the Year

What is the devastating effect on your life when, through no fault of your own, you lose everything — home, family, friends, job, reputation, passport, money, credit cards, mobile phone — and you can never get them back? This is what happens to a young man called Adam Kindred, one May evening in Chelsea, London, when a freakish series of malign accidents and a split-second decision turns his life upside down for ever.

The police are searching for him. There is a reward for his capture. A hired

killer is stalking him. He is alone and anonymous in the huge, pitiless modern city. Adam has nowhere to go but down — underground. He decides to join that vast army of the disappeared and the missing that throng the lowest level of London’s population as he tries to figure out what to do with his life and struggles to understand the forces that have made it unravel so spectacularly. His quest will take him all along the River Thames, from affluent Chelsea to the sink estates of the East End, and on the way he encounters all manner of London’s denizens — aristocrats, prostitutes, priests and policewomen amongst them — and version after new version of himself.

Ordinary Thunderstorms, William Boyd’s electric follow-up to Costa Novel of the Year Restless is a heart-in-mouth conspiracy novel about the fragility of social identity, the scandal of big business, and the secrets that lie hidden in the filthy underbelly of every city.

Buy Ordinary Thunderstorms in paperback
Buy Ordinary Thunderstorms in hardback

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‘A storm of a story … London has never looked so threatening’ Daily Mirror

‘Thriller lovers will discover a superior satisfaction in Ordinary Thunderstorms, in which a brush with a stranger leaves his hero homeless and hunted through the fringes of London’ Guardian

‘I can’t remember when I had a more exciting read than Ordinary Thunderstorms … It’s about a nightmare that might happen to any of us’ Antonia Fraser, Mail on Sunday Books of the Year

‘A compelling fugitive chase through the dark side of modern-day London’ Evening Standard Books of the Year

‘A random encounter in a west London bistro devastates the life of young climatologist Adam Kindred, who is forced underground to evade both the police and a hired assassin’ Observer

Ordinary Thunderstorms has all the baggage of a continent- hopping thriller’ Sunday Times

‘Slick and worldly … immediately, we know that this is a book where the reader is going to be well taken care of. Boyd will preside over it like an avuncular puppeteer, putting his creatures through endless twists and turns for our amusement … richly unbelievable performance … Ordinary Thunderstorms is such a peculiar blend of the convincing and unconvincing that it’s probably best enjoyed as a kind of black comedy’ Sunday Times

‘Classy and compulsive, and paints a vivid panorama of contemporary London from Notting Hill dinner parties to East End crack dens’ London Paper

‘Miraculously rounded and complete … a brilliantly skilled and highly contemporary bit of old fashioned reading pleasure’ Literary Review

‘A novel by William Boyd carries its own recommendation. You know that it will be highly competent; that its world will be solidly and attentively fleshed out; that the characters will be memorable and believable as long as the novel lasts. And you can be confident that Boyd’s command of plot will whip you along very merrily … To read one of his novels is like stepping into an expertly made and rather expensive motor vehicle … Soon a man hunt involving a multinational pharmaceutical company, a harbouring prostitute, a London religious sect and a psychotic hitman are being juggled in a highly entertaining and characteristically expert fashion … Like many people I enjoy a William Boyd novel … This is his first novel since Restless, which I remember getting lost in … the work of a skilled practitioner’ Philip Hensher, Daily Telegraph

‘A thriller pure and simple’ Independent

‘The author’s barrelling follow-up to his hit spy thriller Restless … harks back to that early twentieth-century tradition of the chase thriller. The type that are loved by the English; a middle class protagonist, a good sort with a profession and a wry take on proceedings, finds himself tumbling into the machinations of some dastardly plot … Ordinary Thunderstorms is very much a London novel … Its steeped in the capital’s snags and lures, beauty and banality … The River runs like a dark seam through the story and possesses a grisly undertow … Like John LeCarre’s The Constant Gardener, the novel nails the sheer immensity of the pharmaceutical racket, an industry teeming with more chancers and financiers than physiscians’ Independent on Sunday

‘William Boyd quickens the pace of this conspiracy-fuelled story by switching between narrative perspectives, introducing a hitman, the head of a pharmaceutical company and a sharp, pretty young policewoman. Throughout he braids a taught plot with musings on identity and corruption, offering lingeringly atmospheric glimpses of London’s many hidden selves’ Daily Mail

‘A literary thriller … deals precisely with this complete collapse of normality-timely subject matter, perhaps at a time of financial crisis and its insidious atmosphere of instability’ Evening Standard

‘Whip-crack smart, with a pace to match, Boyd ramps up the paranoia in this novel of identity and reinvention’ Marie Claire

‘A highly enjoyable page-turner with some memorable characters and a star turn by the dirty, pretty River Thames’ Psychologies

‘A thriller of hide and seek among London’s low life … driven by the classic Hitchcockian theme of an innocent young man caught up in extraordinary events beyond his control … Has all the hallmarks of a classic thriller.  Think John Buchan meets John Le Carré’ Tatler

‘One of his most complex works yet … In Ordinary Thunderstorms, Boyd takes the framework of a thriller and manipulates it to ask questions about identity, about what makes us human when all the outward manifestations of our individuality have to be abandoned in the name of survival … Boyd has a brilliant eye for natural detail. There are some beautifully written passages such as the description of sunlight “beginning its slow creep” down the facades of high-rise council flats, “casting sharp geometric shadows as it moved” … It is this expansiveness of vision that raises Ordinary Thunderstorms above the run of the mill. Boyd has created a novel dripping with ideas and impressive in its scope. It might sometimes fall short of the vaulting arch of its own ambition, but one cannot help but be swept along by the thundering narrative tide’ Observer

‘A page-turner … This book’s main strength is in its handling of the relationship of the river, the city and its inhabitants. Despite its flaws, Ordinary Thunderstorms is worth reading for its exploration of this ceaselessly fascinating subject’ Spectator

‘Thrilling, hilarious, intricately plotted and terrifically readable’ TLS Books of the Year

‘Quite simply our best novelist’s best book’ Barry Humphries, The Sunday Telegraph, Books of the Year

‘The fastest page-turner, dry-mouthed and sweaty-palmed [novel this year]’ Nicholas Hytner,Guardian Books of the Year

‘…as a portrait of the dark side of London, from top to bottom, it can rank alongside the very best novels about the capital’ The Times

‘Great suspense stuff here, told with flair, compassion, and a high sense of humor … All these books are good, but for me, Boyd’s deft combination of suspense and literature makes it the pick of the litter’ Stephen King’s Must Reads, Entertainment Weekly

‘Terrifyingly plausible and fantastically gripping. The plot is full of brilliant twists and the characters are superbly drawn’ Mail on Sunday

‘He is one of our top-notch novelists … Ordinary Thunderstorms is a classic thriller, its opening a grand homage to The Thirty-Nine Steps … But just because Boyd can keep you turning pages, shifting seamlessly between the different perspectives of his characters, it does not men that he has abandoned higher ambitions. Ordinary Thunderstorms provides an almost Dickensian portrait of London, from the shifty businessmen and dissolute aristocrats at the top, through the ex-serviceman trying to cling on to his old life in the face of an indifferent civvy street, to the prostitutes, lowlife drug-dealers, homeless and the dispossessed at the bottom … Ordinary Thunderstorms is beautifully written – funny, wise, compelling and so much more than simply a thriller’ The Times Paperbacks of the Year

‘An  ingenious urban thriller in which the city itself becomes one of the principal characters’ Daily Mail


Ordinary thunderstorms have the capacity to transform themselves into multi-cell storms of ever growing complexity. Such multi-cell storms display a marked increase in severity and their lifetime can be extended by a factor of ten or more. The grandfather of all thunderstorms, however, is the super-cell thunderstorm. It should be noted that even ordinary thunderstorms are capable of mutating into super-cell storms. These storms subside very slowly.

Storm Dynamics and Hail Cascades by L.D. Sax and W.S. Dutton

Chapter One

Let us start with the river — all things begin with the river and we shall probably end there, no doubt — but let’s wait and see how we go. Soon, in a minute or two, a young man will come and stand by the river’s edge, here at Chelsea Bridge, in London.

There he is — look — stepping hesitantly down from a taxi, paying the driver, gazing around him, unthinkingly, glancing over at the bright water (it’s a flood tide and the river is unusually high). He’s a tall, pale-faced young man, early thirties, even-featured with tired eyes, his short dark hair neatly cut and edged as if fresh from the barber. He is new to the city, a stranger, and his name is Adam Kindred. He has just been interviewed for a job and feels like seeing the river (the interview having been the usual tense encounter, with a lot at stake), answering a vague desire to ‘get some air’. The recent interview explains why, beneath his expensive trenchcoat, he is wearing a charcoal-grey suit, a maroon tie with a new white shirt and why he’s carrying a glossy solid-looking black briefcase with heavy brass locks and corner trim. He crosses the road, having no idea how his life is about to change in the next few hours — massively, irrevocably — no idea at all.

Adam walked over to the high stone balustrade that curved the roadway into Chelsea Bridge and, leaning on it, looked down at the Thames. The tide was high and still coming in, he saw, the normal flow of water reversed, flotsam moving surprisingly quickly upstream, heading inland, as if the sea were dumping its rubbish in the river rather than the usual, other way round. Adam strolled up the bridge’s wide walkway heading for midstream, his gaze sweeping from the four chimneys of Battersea Power Station (one blurred with a cross-hatching of scaffolding) to the west, past the gold finial of the Peace Pagoda towards the two chimneys of Lots Road Power Station. The plane trees in Battersea Park, on the far bank, were still some way from full leaf — only the horse chestnuts were precociously, densely green. Early May in London . . . He turned and looked back at the Chelsea shore: more trees — he’d forgotten how leafy some parts of London were, how positively bosky. The roofs of the grand, red brick, riverine Victorian mansion blocks rose above the level of the Embankment’s avenue of planes. How high? Sixty feet? Eighty? Apart from the susurrus of ceaseless traffic, the occasional klaxon and whooping siren, he didn’t feel as if he were in the middle of a huge city at all: the trees, the quiet force of the surging, tidal river beneath his feet, that special luminescence that a body of water throws off, made him grow calmer — he’d been right to come to the river — odd how these instincts mysteriously drive you, he thought.

He walked back, his eye held by a clearly defined, attenuated triangle of waste ground to the west side of Chelsea Bridge, formed by the bridge itself, the water’s edge and the four lanes of the Embankment. It was bulked out with vegetation, dense with long grass and thick unpruned bushes and trees. He thought, idly, that such a patch of land must be worth a tidy fortune in this location, even a thin long triangle of waste ground, and he built, in his mind’s eye, a three-storey wedge of a dozen bijou, balconied apartments. Then he saw that in order to achieve this he’d have to cut down a huge fig tree, close to the bridge — decades old, he reckoned, drawing nearer to it, its big shiny leaves still growing, stiffly fresh. A venerable fig tree by the Thames, he thought: strange — how had it been planted there and what happened to the fruit? He conjured up a vision of a plate of Parma ham and halved fresh figs. Where had he eaten that? On his honeymoon in Portofino with Alexa? Or earlier? On one of his student holidays, perhaps . . . It was a mistake to think of Alexa, he realised, his new mood of calm replaced at once by one of sadness and anger, so he concentrated instead on the small surges of hunger he was experiencing, and felt, thinking of the figs and Parma ham, a sudden need for Italian food: Italian food of a simple, honest, basic sort — insalata tricolore, pasta alle vongole, scallopine al limone, torta di nonna.

That would do nicely.

He wandered into Chelsea and almost immediately in the quiet streets behind the Royal Hospital found, to his considerable astonishment, an Italian restaurant — as if he were in a fairy tale. There it was, tucked under yellow awnings badged with a Venetian lion, in a narrow street of white stucco and beige-brick terraced houses — it seemed an anomaly, a fantasy. No shops, no pub, no other restaurant in sight — how had it managed to establish itself here amongst the residents? Adam looked at his watch — 6.20 — a bit early to eat but he was genuinely hungry now and he could see there were already a few other customers inside. Then a smiling, tanned man came to the door and held it open for him, urging, ‘Come in, sir, come in, yes, we are open, come in, come in.’ This man took his coat from him, hung it on a peg and ushered him past the small bar through to the light L-shaped room, shouting genial instructions and rebukes at the other waiters, as if Adam were his most cherished regular and was being inconvenienced by their inefficiency in some way.

He sat Adam down at a table for two with his back to the street outside. He offered to look after Adam’s briefcase but Adam decided it would stay with him as he took the proffered menu and glanced around. Eight tourists — four men, four women — sat at a large round table, eating silently, all dressed in blue with identical blue tote bags at their feet, and there was another solitary man sitting two tables away along from him, who had taken his spectacles off and was dabbing his face with a tissue. He looked agitated, ill at ease in some way, and he glanced over as he replaced his spectacles. As their eyes met the man gave that inclination of the head, the small smile of acknowledgement — the solidarity of the solitary diner — that says I am not sad or lonely, this is something that I have happily chosen to do, just like you. He had a couple of folders and other papers spread on the table in front of him. Adam smiled back.

Adam ate the house salad — spinach, bacon, shaved parmesan and a creamy dressing — and was halfway through his scallopine al vitello (green beans, roast potatoes on the side) when the other solitary diner leant over and asked him if he knew the exact time. His accent was American, his English flawless. Adam told him — 6.52 — the man carefully adjusted his watch and they inevitably began to talk.