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Instruments of Darkness by Robert Wilson

Instruments of Darkness (1995)

by Robert Wilson

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206885,637 (3.56)13



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1.5 because it got more exciting by the end. there was a lot in here that i didn't enjoy, from the language to the plot to the level of violence. the tone was inconsistent throughout, and that is the first thing that irked me as i was reading, because he has some really nice passages; they just often don't flow well or mix well with other things on the page.

there's a lot going on here, plot-wise. i have a british edition (maybe they didn't make an american one?) or they didn't change things for americans and i like that. (so the trunk of the car was called a boot, for example.) i think there were some things i missed because of this, though, since i'm not up on the british drug/criminal slang. i didn't always know what they were talking about but that might also have been because there were a lot of things to keep track of, and i have no foundational knowledge in import/export. that said it was an interesting idea, and there are very few books that i can think of taking place in west africa, going back and forth between a few countries there. that was nice. although there were more white people in the book than i'd expected there to be for a book taking place solely in west africa. (it was also 90 degrees when i read this, so the heat there - while far worse and humid than the heat here - felt real to me both because of the writing and because of the sweat on my body. that was good timing.)

the writing is sometimes good, but often i found it convoluted. sometimes it touched on sounding noir, but that didn't fit in with anything else, and to me ended up just sounding weird since it wasn't consistent and he didn't go all the way with it. i didn't like the predictability of the bad guy going for the girl of the good guy, even though he didn't torture and kill her in front of him in the end, thereby giving the reluctant good guy motivation for all the subsequent books in the series where he is a vigilante or whatever. i guess he'll have to find his motivation elsewhere. that whole part read as trite and predictable, and like he was using a woman as a plot device/point that i've just had enough of. the plot is just too much - import/export, drugs, interpersonal affairs, torture, art, psychopath serial killer; any one or two of those together would have been enough. what i did like, though, is how the two of them discussed their thoughts along the way, and the evidence, so it wasn't the traditional figuring out of the killer behind the scenes; they put it together with the reader, which i liked. probably it had to be done that way or it would have been too confusing for readers. regardless, i liked it being handled that way, so we could really see the thought process at work, and the end was still not totally obvious until we got there. so props for that.

generally this just didn't resonate with me at all and i had to force myself to keep picking it back up. that said, there was some good writing and i appreciate the location, and parts of it got better toward the end. i wouldn't be surprised at all if the later books in this series are better, as his writing and plotting get tighter and even though i didn't enjoy this one, i'd be willing to try him again because he definitely has really good potential.

"The gardener, glistening with sweat, stood with his machete down by his side, naked apart from some raggedy shorts and a willingness to please."

"In Cotonou, the sky ahead weighed a ton and could barely get itself over the rooftops."

"The day was hot and grey like motorway service station coffee." ( )
  overlycriticalelisa | May 16, 2018 |
Bruce Medway is English but left England some years before and crossed the Sahara desert to the coast of Africa in Benin. There he works as a fixer, helping people with problems that pop up. As the book opens he is at the port waiting for a buyer to bring money for a shipment of rice. Wilson's description of the heat and dirt virtually put you at the port. When the buyer does show up she has a sheet filled with bills to pay for the rice. Medway invokes her ire by refusing to give her the original bill of lading until he has counted the money. He and his driver then have to get home with all this cash and evade the tail on him. When they get home, Medway's lover, a German woman who works in the north of Benin, is waiting for him. Medway, Heide and Moses, the driver, work all night counting the money. Then Medway realizes they were in fact followed and they have to make a quick getaway.

The action moves from Benin to Togo to Cote d'Ivoire to Nigeria and thankfully there is a map at the beginning so you can keep these places straight. Medway is hired to find a missing Englishman and realizes people are being killed to hide details about some huge deal. On top of that, the political situation in these countries is in a state of flux and Medway has to try to avoid getting involved in that.

Wilson has a deft hand at describing the country and the people so that I learned a lot about living in this part of the world. He also has a dry sense of humour and throws out one-line phrases that made me snort with laughter. For example:
"The fridge opened on to a grapefruit and a soggy pawpaw. The pawpaw didn't hold out both hands and I took the grapefruit, which had more pith on it than an Oscar Wilde aphorism."

There were some first book problems, such as trying to work in too many different story lines and dropping characters along the way. But, it was so good in other ways that I can forgive it that. And from reviews of later books it appears that Wilson learns to deal with those problems.

I'll be looking for more books by this author and I'll be recommending him to other people who enjoy gritty, atmospheric thrillers. ( )
  gypsysmom | Aug 9, 2017 |
This book is about Bruce Medway a European in West Africa working as a "fixer". His job is to find a missing expat, a trader in sheanut oil, who hasn't appeared for work with his local boss. The story follows Medway on his journey through Benin, Togo and Ghana where the author describes bustling cities and shady underworld dealings and politics. While the book is a good mystery it was at first a bit slow going. I personally, found the first 90 pages to have too much description and attempts to turn a clever phrase that I almost gave up reading on two separate attempts. Eventually, the story shifts into another gear and I felt the descriptions and characterizations fulfilled a purpose. the characters seemed less flat than in the first half and I could now feel more of a connection with them and the mystery that was unfolding on the page. Overall, if you like mysteries about shady business practices and shady people set in exotic locations it is worth a read. ( )
  SUS456 | Aug 5, 2015 |
If there is one series where heat envelops the reader it is in Robert Wilson’s West Africa series featuring Bruce Medway, a British expatriate who lives in Benin, but travels back and forth across the armpit of Africa, as it is called, because there are several counties nestling closely under the arm of the continent as it juts out into the Atlantic. Medway is a fixer; a facilitator who tries to make a living by helping people out, providing they are not criminals. Unfortunately, he doesn’t exactly have a good nose for scenting out who are the good guys.

The first in the series is Instruments of Darkness, and Bruce starts out simply trying to facilitate the sale of some rice, but ends up looking for another Englishman who was working in the shea butter trade and is missing. Benin, Ghana and Togo are in turmoil, and Medway has to stay on the right side of the law, which fluctuates day by day.

The stories in Wilson’s African quartet are fast-paced, occasionally violent, but there are flashes of humor to temper it. Wilson has a way with descriptions that resonated with me and I recall them from time to time because they are so apt, like the girl with the sputnik hair. Sometimes it is so hot, the people move at a slow pace, and the vultures look at each other as if to say "Dinner soon." ( )
  Condorena | Apr 2, 2013 |
I've had all the Bruce Medway books for going on 10 years now, plus I've been buying other Robert Wilson books, but until now I hadn't read any of them. I'd started Instruments of Darkness a couple of times in the past but it never really grabbed me (even this time I set it down for a week or so and read a couple of other books, but I was determined to finish it as I was finally getting more interested in the story and characters). So, long story short, it's a little slow at the beginning while characters and setting are being established, but the pay-off from this book is enormous. The Medway character is nicely hard-boiled, the dialogue is great, and the descriptive phrases used by Wilson truly shine. I'm eager to read more of Robert Wilson's books and, luckily, I've got lots of them on-hand already.

This book has earned a solid ( )
  bookstothesky | Oct 20, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0156011131, Paperback)

From the author of the national bestseller A Small Death in Lisbon and The Company of Strangers comes Wilson's compelling first novel, never before available in the United States. Bruce Medway's existence as a fixer and troubleshooter had been tough, but never life-threatening until he crossed paths with the mighty Madame Severnou. His life becomes even more complicated by his search for a missing fellow expat, Steven Kershaw. Against a backdrop of political disruption and endemic official corruption, Medway pursues the elusive phantom of Kershaw.
Instruments of Darkness powerfully evokes the atmosphere, politics, and people of West Africa. With Medway's ironic voice, flashes of humor that may recall Raymond Chandler, and unforgettable characters, this compulsively readable thriller is the beginning of a remarkable series.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:08 -0400)

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"Meet British expatriate Bruce Medway, a "fixer" for traders in an unwelcoming part of Africa once known as the White Man's Grave. Medway's work is tough, but never life-threatening - until he crosses paths with the mighty Madame Severnou. And the situation becomes even stickier when he is called to search for Steven Kershaw, a missing fellow expat. Against a backdrop of political disruption and endemic official corruption, Medway learns that nothing in Africa is what it seems and that those who seek the truth find out more than they wish to know."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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