Sunday, December 1, 2013

Instruments of Darkness: Robert Wilson

Excerpt from synopsis for the book at the author's website:
Bruce Medway, fixer and debt collector, operates along that stretch of West African coast they used to call The White Man's Grave. He spends his time drinking hard and getting steamy with his girlfriend Heike, a German aid worker. He always needs cash but finds he's bitten off more than he can chew when the formidable Madame Severnou, having given him a bedsheet full of money for a 7000 ton cargo of rice, comes back to collect. Warned off any notion of revenge by his client, Jack Obuasi, Bruce instead directs his energies into the search for missing British expat, Steven Kershaw.
This is my capsule review: I enjoyed this book but it is not in my favorite sub-genre. This book, part of a four books series,  is described by the author as 1990's West African noir. The author admires Chandler, and it shows in his style of writing. But this novel is very gritty, very violent.

The characters in this book seem to be divided into good and bad. Very little in between. Most of the characters are very bad people, either very evil or very crazy. There are a few "good" people among the protagonist's friends and acquaintances: his girlfriend Heike, his driver Moses, the policeman who works with him and becomes his ally.  Bruce Medway and the policeman, Bagado, are the characters with the most depth in this novel.

I read this book at this time primarily because of the setting. Medway lives in Benin, but some of the action also occurs in Togo, Nigeria and Ghana. Because of Robert Wilson's background (he has lived and worked in Africa), I believe the depiction of the area and the people to be accurate. This article, Crime Beat: Ayo Onatade on the African crime novels of Robert Wilson, also indicates that he has done a good job of describing the situation in this part of Africa.

This book is the type of thriller that requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. But most thrillers are like that and for the most part that is OK. The good guys escape from impossible situations, and go on living to save another day.

As soon as I finished this book, I was ready to jump into The Big Killing, the second book in the series. So, yes, it is a very readable book, and I do want to know what happens to the characters. But, from what I have read about that book, it is more of the same, thus I will have to wade through more violence and endure more corrupt characters. I cannot start the second book now. I have other reading commitments for 2013, but I do hope to get to it in 2014.

I have read one other book by Robert Wilson. It was The Company of Strangers (my review here), a spy thriller, and it was one of my favorite reads of 2012. That novel is a spy thriller, one of Wilson's two standalone novels, published in 2001. The story is set in Lisbon initially, then moves to East Berlin and England. It covers the years from 1944 through the early 1990s.

Wilson has written two other series, and I plan to read both. The Javier Falcon series is set in Spain; a new series, featuring Charlie Boxer, is set in London.


10 comments:

  1. I have a few by this author and have read The Big Killing a few years ago. They are interesting books when you read the back cover - but for some reason they don't jump off the shelf at me - I pick them up and put them back down again! Maybe next year? Glad you enjoyed it though, Tracy - despite the violence!

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    1. Col, this was a good read, and I certainly learned more about Africa, but I think I prefer the author's later books.

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  2. Tracy, I'm looking forward to reading a novel or two by Robert Wilson; perhaps, starting with THE COMPANY OF STRANGERS, being a spy thriller. Besides, I'm at ease with standalone novels.

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    1. Prashant, I really liked The Company of Strangers, and I have one more standalone by him that I am eager to try.

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  3. Tracy - I'm glad that you found the book readable, even if it isn't your preferred sub-genre. The setting appeals to me, so although I don't like a lot of gritty violence, I may try it.

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    1. Margot, he does write very well, at least in the two I have tried so far. But the two I have read have very different styles of writing.

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  4. I have read the Javier Falcon series and enjoyed it, so it might be interesting to see what Robert Wilson makes of Western Africa. I think it must be difficult to do justice to such a place, full of beauty but also darkness.

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    1. Marina, Glad to hear you liked the Javier Falcon series. I have all of those books. You should definitely try the Bruce Medway series. My preference is not to read books with so much bleakness, but I do think he does a good job portraying that area.

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  5. This author is new to me, and sounds interesting, but actually you've done a better job of selling the earlier book to me - I looked at your review of Company of Strangers, and thought I'd start with that one.

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    1. Moira, that probably is a better place to start. Although I do remember lots of descriptions of clothes in this book. Maybe he does that in all of his books.

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