Cover image of "Long Time Coming" by Robert Goddard, a novel with its roots in the truth about the Belgian Congo.

Robert Goddard writes suspenseful crime thrillers that typically span many years of British history. Invariably, they demonstrate graphically the unforeseen consequences of long-ago acts. Long Time Coming is one of the 31 novels he has written since the 1980s. It’s a thriller that reveals the long-hidden truth about the Belgian Congo.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

A tale rooted in the Belgian Congo

Each of Goddard’s mystery novels is a standalone story. There are virtually no reappearing characters, much less a series hero. Another of the hallmarks of Goddard’s writing is his mastery of complex plotting. His books are full of complications, setbacks, and surprises, and Long Time Coming is no exception.

In Long Time Coming, the story is rooted in the legendarily brutal Belgian empire in the Congo in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. But the action shifts back and forth from England to Ireland to Belgium, with episodes alternating from 1976 to 1940 and back again at regular intervals and concluding with shorter scenes in 1922 and 2008.

Long Time Coming by Robert Goddard (2009) 528 pages ★★★★☆

Photo of ivory hunters in the Belgian Congo
The Belgian Congo was a center for ivory hunting. It was also the site for unspeakable atrocities by the agents of Belgian King Leopold II, who personally owned the country. Image: The Guardian

A long-lost uncle turns up in England

Long Time Coming tells the tale of Stephen Swan, a young English geologist relocated in 1976 to his home after a stint in the Texas oilfields. His uncle, Eldritch Swan, has suddenly appeared in Stephen’s life after 36 years in an Irish prison. Stephen’s parents had always told him his father’s brother had died in the Blitz, but Eldritch, to the young man’s chagrin, is very much alive. And he proceeds to involve his nephew in a perilous chase through London, Dublin, and Antwerp in search of proof that he was innocent of the charge that confined him to prison for more than a third of a century.

A crooked Antwerp diamond merchant and an IRA terrorist

Along the way we meet a crooked Antwerp diamond merchant and his beautiful young granddaughter. She is an IRA terrorist with a world-class talent at forging art. She possesses a priceless collection of Picassos. Other characters who enter the picture include a ruthless and venal former MI6 operative now living the life of a rural squire, and an assortment of police officers, secret service agents, and lawyers in England, Ireland, and Belgium.

Long Time Coming is no mere whodunit but a genuine novel of suspense, peopled by three-dimensional characters living in a moral universe painted in shades of gray. The brutal Belgian Congo comes to life in this novel.

History’s judgment on the brutal Belgian Congo

In a great many of the 90 former colonies that comprised the British Empire, you don’t have to look far to encounter anger—sometimes incandescent anger—that their citizens harbor for their former overlords. It’s much the same in many of the now-independent nations once governed by French, German, American, and Dutch colonial officials. But nowhere on Earth is such anger more justified than in today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Popular historian Adam Hochschild famously catalogued the crimes against humanity perpetrated from 1885 to 1908 by the agents of the owner of the Congo Free State, King Leopold II of Belgium. His searing account, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa, brought to a broad public what historians of the period had long known. That Belgian officials had not just looted the country of its natural wealth. They operated a regime so brutal that the country’s population fell dramatically during the three decades of their rule.

About the author

Photo of Robert Goddard, author of this novel that plumbs the truth about the Belgian Congo
Robert Goddard. Image: Wikipedia

Robert Goddard was born in 1954 in Hampshire, England and studied history at the University of Cambridge. Following unsuccessful attempts at careers in journalism, teaching, and educational administration, he turned to writing novels full-time. Since 1986, he has published 31 thrillers. Most have been Top Ten Sunday Times bestsellers in the UK. He lives with his wife in Cornwall.

Although I read many of his books before launching this blog, I’ve reviewed one other Robert Goddard thriller here: The Ways of the World (Robert Goddard’s superb novel of espionage set in 1919 Paris).

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