My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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 shipping, and pale-skinned folk stand out. I wasn’t sure at first if this was my kind of detective story, but I kept turning the pages. I took that as a sign that I was engaged enough to make reading it worthwhile.
In places, I really noticed the short sentence structure, and the patois got a bit tedious at one point. As a young reader, I used to be a fan of writers using dialect in their dialogue. But now I often find it distracts when overused and adds a layer of artificiality or a feeling of trying too hard on the part of the author. As the book went on, the dialect lessened, and the story took ascendance.
It’s a simple story on the surface, of a man trying to puzzle out why two people died in the way they did and the truth of how they are tied together. But underneath seethes a plot that requires you to use your little grey cells. Even the personal back story of the protagonist requires one to do more than eyeball the words but to think about how men and women interact and what the woman in the protagonist’s life really wants.
The heat is unrelenting and is a metaphor for the heat of injustice weighing on the Englishman, the narrator and protagonist of Instruments of Darkness. But it’s not done in an obvious way. Rather, though at first unpleasant to read seemingly endless descriptions of sweat and sticking, it became a compelling part of the milieu and gave me a peek into what it’s like to live in another part of our shared planet where air conditioning is infrequent.
The book ended when I was not ready. The story was complete; I just wanted more.