Whitbread Award winner Boyd (Bamboo, 2007, etc.) employs thriller conventions to propel an intelligent, polished novel distinguished by full-bodied characterizations and understated social commentary.
In London for a job interview after years of living in America, climatologist Adam Kindred chats briefly with a stranger in an Italian restaurant, then notices the man has left behind a folder. Extracting a business card, he heads for a Sloane Avenue apartment house, where he finds Dr. Philip Wang with a knife in his side. Wang dies after asking Adam to remove the knife, and the noise of an opening window and someone stepping inside sets him fleeing. Adam’s reasons for not calling the police are fairly specious, but everything that follows is so compelling that readers won’t care. Now wanted for murder, Adam goes deep underground, first setting up camp near the river, then finding refuge with a prostitute in a public-housing estate. Tough but not all bad, Mhouse is one in a cast of sharply depicted characters that also includes Ingram Fryzer, ailing CEO of the pharmaceutical company where Wang worked, which is just about to launch a new drug for asthma; Jonjo, a former soldier turned contract killer; policewoman Rita Nashe and her father, a cantankerous aging hippie; and Alfredo Rilke, sinister head of an international firm with a stake in Fryzer’s company, which he intends to take over to reap the vast profits he foresees from the asthma drug. Boyd expertly juggles the action among these players to forward the nicely crafted plot, but the real interest lies in the way he expertly develops each individual character’s emotions and personal history. The wonderfully ambiguous ending shows justice served through savvy exploitation of Internet social networks, a shareholder meeting and the sensation-hungry modern media. But the real bad guys go unpunished, and Jonjo remains free to threaten Adam’s tentative happy ending.
Fine entertainment, and even finer as a thoughtful exploration of the intersections of different people in a modern metropolis.