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- The Bruce Medway Books
  THE AFRICAN BOOKS
This was how I started writing. When I got married my wife and I bought a VW Kombi van and in 1987 we drove it across the Sahara to West Africa. From there we went through the dark heart of the continent to Kenya and Tanzania.

Change to survive
It was the first time in my life that I was aware that I was going to have to change in order to survive. Africa would not fit into my British/European template for living. I remember a NATO officer intrigued me once by telling me how their international delegates tended to revert to their country’s stereotype in meetings. For the British that meant: arrogance. We always think we know how to do things best. That was what I learnt from post-independence Africa: it didn’t matter what I thought. Hotel bars across Africa were full of broken people who had not been able to accept that. Change is the first step on the road to becoming a writer. If you fit right in you’ll only ever write what people want or expect to hear.

The University of Africa
After our trip my wife and I left London and moved to Portugal and I started writing travel stories about my experiences in Africa. Then I went to Africa to work for an Armenian guy who’d made his fortune building public works in Kwame Nkruma’s Ghana. He knew Africa. He used to tease me about my English degree. 'Africa is a different university,’ he said. 'The Africans will teach you everything you need to know.’ He was right.

The sheanut trade
We were setting up a business to export a nut that grows wild in the northern part of the West African coastal states. Called sheanut, it’s picked by the locals, who treat it and sell it on to al Hadjis, the general term for travelling Muslim businessmen, and they in turn sold it to us. We stored the sacks in warehouses, transported it down to the ports and shipped it out in bulk to factories in Northern Europe. There it was crushed into a butter which was used in chocolate and face creams. If you want to know what makes a continent tick the best way to understand it is to work there.

The journey to crime
These four African books are the product of 10 years of travelling, living and working in Africa. But why did I make them crime novels? A screenwriter friend of mine was taking time out to write some crime novels and when he read my travel stories he said: 'You’ll never sell these as they are, but if you wrote them as crime novels, now that would be different.’ I hadn’t read crime since I was a kid so he told me to start with the classics like Raymond Chandler and proceed to more modern writers like Elmore Leonard.

Africa Noir
Reading Chandler was the revelation. I loved that 'noir’ voice that developed out of the black and white gangster movies of the 1930s and 40s. I realised that there were similarities between 1940s California and 1990s West Africa. They both had extremes of poverty and wealth, both were riven by political corruption, both were full of people on the make. It came to me that I could create my own African 'noir’ voice but that I would have to find a hero who was not a private eye. That would not ring true in West Africa. And so I developed Bruce Medway: fixer, negotiator, debt collector and investigator. He’s an Englishmen who’s fetched up on the West Coast of Africa after a trip across the Sahara and needs to make some money. He sets himself up as a freelance manager, supervising the unloading of ships, arranging labour and transport, getting stuff through customs and, when people don’t pay for the goods he’s delivered, he collects the debts for his employers. It’s a seedy lifestyle which is mitigated by his relationship with Heike, a beautiful German aid worker, and his friendship with Bagado, a Nigerian/Beninois detective whom he meets on one of his cases. Whereas Bruce has a rather flexible moral attitude because he finds himself inexorably attracted to bad guys, Bagado and Heike have far greater certitude with which they attempt to keep Bruce on the straight and narrow.

In the blood
The idea of the books was not just to tell exciting crime stories but also to give people an insight into what has happened in Africa since independence. For those who knew Africa they would set off that tingling in the blood that never leaves you once it’s got into your system. For those who didn’t know Africa they would be like survival manuals. The greatest compliment ever paid to these books came from a guy who approached me at a book launch for A Small Death in Lisbon. He was a travelling salesman who worked with a team of people in West Africa. He said: 'Whenever we were gathered together and had a particularly intractable problem we’d all look at each other and say: 'What would Bruce Medway do now?’
 
     

 

Instruments of Darkness The Big Killing Blood is Dirt A Darkening Stain