Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Review of Instruments of Darkness by Robert Wilson (Harper Collins, 1995)

Based in Benin, West Africa, Bruce Medway is in his late thirties and makes a living as ‘fixer’ for traders along the gold coast.  Inevitably he deals with some shady characters and shady transactions and he knows how to look after himself in a society which has a healthy black market and little time for the rules and laws of former colonial masters.  Double-crossed by the fearsome Madame Severnou, Medway is warned off any confrontation by his client, Jack Obuasi, who has a cut in the deal.  Instead Obuasi pushes Medway towards B.B. a businessman who has a problem – the disappearance of Steven Kershaw, a failed financial consultant in London who has come to Africa to get himself back on his feet.  Criss-crossing Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria it doesn’t take long for Medway to pick up Kershaw’s trail – only it seems the expat has murdered a French woman after first torturing her and he’s also wanted by some other dangerous characters.  Joined in the hunt by a local cop, Bagado, Medway continues to search for Kershaw even though he knows he is being drawn into a politically corrupt hornet’s nest.  All the while he’s trying to decide whether to take his relationship with his German aid worker girlfriend, Heike, to the next level.

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 all have strong personalities.  The story is probably best described as a thriller, rather than crime novel, and there is a good pace and page turning quality to the narrative.  However, as the book progressed the plot got increasingly convoluted and less believable, and in the end suffered from the same problem as all Bond films – the villains capture the hero, but instead of doing the logical thing of killing him (as with other troublesome characters), they let him live, then he escapes, and lo and behold eventually emerges victorious, and what’s more as they are about to kill him they tell him the whole plot and let him ask questions.  I just kept thinking, why don’t they just kill him?  Regardless of this shortcoming, overall, an enjoyable thriller.

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