Robert Wilson: Biography & Books

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the life and works of British-born crime novelist, Robert Wilson, whose 13 works (and counting) have covered Africa, Iberia, and England, and touched on the issues facing these regions.

Robert Wilson

Not everyone knows what they want to do in life from a young age. For some, it can take years of trying at different things before they find their true calling. This was certainly the case for the British crime writer, Robert Wilson. Though he knew he always loved writing and poetry, it took several trips and some odd career choices before Wilson found his true calling as an exemplary novelist.

In this lesson we will briefly explore Wilson's biography and the books he has written thus far in his career.


Wilson was born in 1957 in England, the son of an officer in the British Royal Air Force. Wilson's family moved around due to his father's deployment, and he spent a portion of his childhood in France -- an experience he credits for his love of travel and mussels. Wilson returned to England to attend primary school, where he became interested in sports and was a superb athlete.

Wilson credits several English teachers with piquing his interest in writing and poetry, and for helping him get into Oxford University. He graduated from Oxford with a degree in English. During his time there, he spent his vacation periods traveling the world with friends. At one point, he failed to make it back from Crete (where he was working as a tour guide) before his father passed away. Wilson expressed his woe through poetry and writing.

Once back in England, Wilson worked for a merchant broker and an ad agency, before marrying his wife and permanently relocating to Portugal. There he began writing professionally, and his first crime novel, Instruments of Darkness, was published in 1995. Since then, he has published 13 books, and his work has been translated into over 20 languages. He continues to live with his wife in Portugal and is still writing.


Robert Wilson has written three series which feature the same main character, and two stand-alone crime novels.

Bruce Medway Series

The Bruce Medway series was Wilson's first foray into crime writing, and it is heavily drawn from his experiences traveling and working in Africa. Bruce Medway is a hard-drinking, jack-of-all trades British expatriate who dabbles in debt collecting, smuggling, and other legally dubious activities. The first book in the series, Instruments of Darkness, centers around two competing storylines: Medway's dealings with Madame Severnou, who contracts him to smuggle a 7,000-ton shipment of cargo, and his investigation of the disappearance of another British expat. In the process, Medway discovers the seedy and corrupt nature of West African politics.

The other novels in the Medway series also touch on topics of importance to contemporary West Africa. In the second book, for instance, The Big Killing, Wilson's main character finds himself in the Ivory Coast, caught up in the blood diamond trade and Liberia's debilitating civil war of the 1990s. The third Medway novel, Blood Is Dirt is a more traditional crime novel where Medway and his sidekick from the first novel, Bagado, try to track down the killers of one of their clients. The fourth and final Medway book, A Darkening Stain, involves human trafficking, police corruption, and the disappearance of young girls--a problem which Medway inevitably feels drawn to solve.

Non-serial books

After the Medway series, Wilson wrote two stand-alone novels. Though the stories' characters and plots are unrelated, both are set in WWII-era Portugal. The first, A Small Death in Lisbon, follows a Berlin businessman who is drafted into the SS in 1941 and sent to Portugal. There he plays a large part in the Nazi attempts to mine, buy, and export tungsten in large quantities -- something which actually occurred in history. Wilson also deftly weaves in a second story, involving a Portuguese police officer in the 1990s investigating the murder of a young girl and happening upon the consequences of the Nazi push for tungsten at the same time.

The other stand-alone novel, The Company of Strangers, is more of a love story than a crime novel. It follows two spies, one British and one German, who fall in love during the war and attempt to navigate the world of international espionage without losing one another.

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