Goddard was educated at Wallisdean County Junior School and Price's School in Fareham before going on to study history at Cambridge. After unsuccessful attempts at a career in both journalism and teaching he worked for a time as an educational administrator in Devon before becoming a full-time novelist. His thriller usually have a historical element and settings in provincial English towns and cities, and many plot twists. They typically involve the lead character gradually uncovering a conspiracy which has long been kept secret, by means of historical documents such as diaries or by means of word-of-mouth accounts that have been handed down from one person to another. Regarded as one of Britain's premier historical/crime thriller authors, Goddard's first novel, Past Caring, was published in 1986. He has since written another twenty novels, the majority of which have been Sunday Times Top Ten bestsellers in the UK.
The books Into the Blue, Out of the Sun and Never Go Back, although distinct books in their own right, form a chronological series featuring the central character of Harry Barnett.
Into the Blue was adapted for television in 1997 and starred John Thaw in the lead role of Harry Barnett. Robert Goddard was not impressed with the adaptation. In an interview, he said "The TV version of Into the Blue was a travesty of the story I wrote and I am determined that any future adaptations should be more faithful to the original."