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Instruments of Darkness

(Bruce Medway #1)

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  384 ratings  ·  46 reviews
'First in a field of one' (Literary Review) Robert Wilson's first novel, a tense and powerful thriller set in the sultry heat of West Africa Benin, West Africa. Englishman Bruce Medway operates as a 'fixer' for traders along the part of the coast they used to call the White Man's Grave. It's a tough existence, but Medway can handle it... until he crosses the formidable Mad ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published July 4th 2011 by Harper (first published 1995)
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Average rating 3.70  · 
Rating details
 ·  384 ratings  ·  46 reviews

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Jill Mackin
Looking forward to book #2 in this series. A very good murder, thriller, mystery book set in
West Africa.
Jim Coughenour
Back in the 90s I had to order Robert Wilson's Bruce Medway novels from the UK. (Now you can find them in the US, though probably still only online.) This is the first of the quartet, followed by The Big Killing; Blood is Dirt and A Darkening Stain. These four books are a lot more hardboiled than Wilson's more popular novels (starting with A Small Death in Lisbon, first published in 1999). Medway is a burned-out Brit living in Benin, working as a "fixer" for all sorts of unsavory clients who have to deal with th ...more
Sep 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookcrossing, 2011
I've got my eyes open for (non-cozy) mysteries and thrillers that are located somewhere else and more exotic.
When I saw this book, I couldn't just pass it since I had enjoyed A Small Death in Lisbon by the same author. But the books are completely different.

Instruments of Darkness has Bruce Medway, a British expat, a "fixer" as its hero. Bruce makes Philip Marlowe look like Miss Marple. Take a thrilling mystery with a hero a bit like Philip Marlowe, but make him more hard-boiled, and
Sally Sugarman
This book takes places in West Africa, including Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria. The characters travel through those places in a car. The heat is tangible as is the sound of the air conditioners and the difficulty breathing when the air conditioners are not working. One can feel the humidity and the sweat that oppresses the people. Bruce Medway is a fixer, mostly for white businessmen who may be involved in some shady dealings. He is asked to find out what happened to Steve Kershaw who seems to ...more
Overall, I quite liked this book.

It has strengths in the mystery that develops (not initially obvious), the characters (from the quickly drawn to the fully developed they are all quite full fleshed and believable) and the mouth of the central character and narrator (he's got a smart mouth on him reminiscent of Sam Spade).

And it has weaknesses. These I found to be most annoying in the beginning. The greatest is also one of the books strengths. Every paragraph, and sometimes it seems like every
Julie Griffin
If you like pot boilers with femme fatales and dead bodies, wise-guy tough guys and bullying bad guys, then this one is well done, and for you. It is not really my kind of book, and I do not want to leave a bad review because I do not care for the stylistics of the genre. Read this book in desperation for reading around the world project, could not find anything affordable or by a native writer for Benin. I feel like I did get a good feel for what it must be like to be an expatriot living in Ben ...more
gail ober
It was ok. I enjoyed some of his other books more than this one.
Oct 29, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: around-the-world
Very much a "man's" book, this story of a fixer in West Africa was overly descriptive and not really my cup of tea. It does however tick off Benin on my ATW challenge
May 03, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating location and great character development - wow! The plot is more than a little sticky, but this was an entertaining read nonetheless. I still do not want to go to Africa.
Jul 04, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011, mystery
I was looking for the Canadian author Robert Wilson in the virtual branch of the Toronto Public Library. He wasn't listed, but this Wilson was. The blurb sounded interesting, and even more relevant, it was available to borrow right away. Most books in TPL are on hold!

Instruments of Darkness describes a world I'm not familiar with at all: the grit of Africa, where violence roams next to pockets of people trying to earn a living, where booze and cigarettes are as ubiquitous as the heat, where money greases the s/>Instruments
This is a murder mystery thriller set in West Africa. The action takes place across Benin, Togo, Nigeria and Ghana but primarily in Togo. I was glad there was a map at the front of the book as the actions zips across borders pretty rapidly. I didn't know that the four countries mentioned above all have access to the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean within about 100 miles of each other with Togo and Benin being very slim countries sandwiched between their two much bigger neighbours.
Sep 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mysteries, africa, benin
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 exac ...more
Rob Kitchin
Wilson writes in an assured style that is strong on description and insight, and Instruments of Darkness captures the complex social and political relations of West Africa and how a white trader and fixer operates within such conditions. Indeed, the book does a good job of evoking a strong sense of place and people. The characterisation is, for the most part, good, although sometimes there was a sense of caricature. I suspect that is because there are no weak characters, in the sense that they a ...more
John Marsh
Dec 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: readreview
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 04, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: detective
It was OK, as the stars say. There's not much to like about the characters in this book and I see there are a few more in a series with Bruce Medway as the main character. He's an ex pat in the horn of Africa who deals with the seedier side of life. Some would call it gritty, I'd call it formulaic and lacking in human interest.

Being an ex pat myself, albeit in a different part of the world, I can offer the opinion that Bruce Medway patently did not take the opportunity offered to him
Rob Innis
Having loved Wilson's 'Javier Falcon' series (set in Spain)I eagerly bought this and other Bruce Medway books - however I was disappointed. The plot just seem to be in a lull, then violence and confusion and I found it hard to follow or feel any real enthusiasm for the characters, whoever they were. I only persevered because after all it was a Robert Wilson but in the end gave up.
There were some snappy one liners but that was not enough to make it a memorable book. I moved onto 'The Big Ki
May 19, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2014, noir, africa
This is really a 2.5. I almost stopped reading a third of the way in but kept on because I was trying to decide if it was ridiculously bad noir or deliciously bad noir. Turns out it's both, with a story that hooks you before you realize it. Diverting entertainment and a quick read. I'll definitely read the next one in the series.

(Note:not at all the same tone or approach as A Small Death in Lisbon. If - like me -that is your only prior experience of Robert Wilson's writing, be prepared for some
Apr 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: noir
Hard to say which I enjoyed more - this book set in Africa or the first book of the series set in Spain. Falcon is more sympathetic than Medway, and the symbolism in the Blind man of Seville was clever and beautiful. The peppering of similes and metaphors in the African book, however, had me smiling regularly, as did the witty dialogue. I loved both, and I recommend this author to any and all who love a good read of quality.
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a fan of Robert Wilson's crime novels, especially the Inspector Falcon series. The Bruce Medway books are earlier works and it shows. There's lots of Raymond Chandler-style metaphor and a beautifully-evoked sense of place, but it overwhelms any sense of Bruce's character and muted my sympathy for him. He feels like a wise-cracking camera.

It is definitely worth reading, but I'd recommend The Blind Man of Seville in preference.
Phil Spencer
I picked this book up because I was interested to hear an ex-pat's view of Benin. Unfortunately, the author clearly lacked an understanding of the country and its people. Rather, than exploring the cultural features of Benin, Wilson simply uses the exotic & mysterious land to tell his disconnected story.

Having said this, I did enjoy the murder mystery aspect of the novel and the inter web of characters. For this reason, I finished the book feeling satisfied.
Sep 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: detective, crime
A hard-boiled wise-cracking detective/crime novel set in West Africa. Great characters, twisty plot, and I like that the lead isn't Superman - he spends the novel getting the crap beat out of him repeatedly. Set against a backdrop of African politics, corruption, and revolution, which overflows into the plot. A satisfying ending, as well.
Stephen Peale
Mar 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british-crime
Fans of British crime writers will find Robert Wilson's novels compelling. Begin with this novel and read everything you can find by this writer. Wilson's settings range from Lisbon, to East Africa, to southeast Spain, which keeps me following his work. It's entertaining and one can learn a lot from his work.
A confused plot made worthwhile only by the local color. Takes place in West Africa. That and the characters save the book from its too confusing plot. And yet, I plan on reading the next in this series, just the same.
Ken Fredette
Nov 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I gave it five stars because it managed to fill me with wanting to finish it in one full sweep. I played grandpa to my grandson by going to his first orchestra recital with the book in my hands. I never did this before.
W. Nicol
Jun 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wish I had the talent to write like this. I've never been to West Africa but now I feel I don't need to. Nor have I ever wished to become involved with violent criminals and this book confirms that a wise lifestyle choice. Absolutely brilliant.
Feb 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love this book. I loved the chaos and unreliability of the baddies against his own fragile world, found it ironic and funny as well as having the time is running out factor. Read on they get better and better
Mar 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Second reading as good as the first, or maybe even better. There is just no one quite like Bruce Medway and no author quite as good to pull off a series of African noir, or "Philip Marlow in Africa"--these need to be made into a BBC series--as Robert Wilson
Medway is a British expatriate in West Africa who makes his living as a fixer for traders but finds danger when he is hired to find another Brit who seems to have disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Very entertaining. Will continue on with this series.
May 30, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish
John Treanor
Pretty good noir-ish novel based in Africa. Will probably read the others in the Medway series.
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Robert Wilson has written thirteen novels including the Bruce Medway noir series set in West Africa and two Lisbon books with WW2 settings the first of which, A Small Death in Lisbon, won the CWA Gold Dagger in 1999 and the International Deutsche Krimi prize in 2003. He has written four psychological crime novels set in Seville, with his Spanish detective, Javier Falcón. Two of these books (The Bl ...more

Other books in the series

Bruce Medway (4 books)
  • The Big Killing (Bruce Medway, #2)
  • Blood Is Dirt (Bruce Medway, #3)
  • A Darkening Stain (Bruce Medway, #4)