Adam Kindred, in London for a job interview, runs into a scientist in a restaurant. The man leaves behind some papers and Kindred, finding a phone number among the documents, calls and offers to return them. He arrives at the man's flat to find him dying from a stab wound. Hearing the killer elsewhere in the flat, Kindred flees, only later realising that he is now the prime suspect. [amtap book:isbn=1408802856]
So begins Boyd's thriller which weaves together climatology, pharmaceutical testing, religious cults and the seedy underworld and sets them in a contemporary London that feels wonderfully authentic.Boyd is particularly good on the ways that we can be tracked nowadays. Bank cards, mobile phones, CCTV and numerous other technologies can follow us through the modern city. In that sense, the classic Hitchcock template - the man on the run for reasons he doesn't quite understand - was ripe for an update.
Kindred has to live on the streets: "That's how you disappear in the twenty-first century - you just refuse to take part in it. You live like a medieval peasant: you scrounge, you steal, you sleep under hedges."
Gradually Kindred acquires a new identity, the help of a friendly policewoman, Rita, and begins to realise that he needs to solve the case himself.
It's fairly familiar stuff and, as with many thrillers of this type, Boyd's plot relies on several coincidences and implausible turns of events. The initial set-up in particular requires a significant suspension of disbelief. While it's true that Kindred gets himself into a tricky situation, the strongest indicator of his guilt is not anything that happens in the scientist's flat but the fact that he goes on the run. Boyd goes to great lengths to construct a scenario in which Kindred's decision not to go to the police is convincing but it still feels more like a writer's plot than a believable circumstance.
Likewise, and for no good reason, Rita turns out to be the policewoman who found the scientist's body. She's been transferred to a different section by the time Kindred meets her so their meeting stretches belief - so much so that Boyd has to address the coincidence in the text.
Still, a book like this is not about those details. The important thing is to sit back and enjoy the ride - and it is enjoyable, peopled with intriguingly odd characters and seemingly unstoppable villains. There are even one or two genuinely moving moments along the way. It's a light read but an entertaining one.