Kayode trained as a clinical psychologist before turning to novel writing, and his expertise brings an extra layer to an already absorbing narrative. Nigeria is vividly drawn, from the backwater where the killings take place to the chaotic bustle of Lagos airport. Despite the frustrations and danger, Taiwo’s affection for his country is clear. “One minute I am in Okriki, fighting off assailants, next I am in a five-star hotel in Port Harcourt. Only in Nigeria.”
Femi Kayode’s debut opens with a truly horrific mob killing. Three students are accused of robbery and then murdered in a Nigerian university town, their deaths captured on camera and replayed endlessly on social media. “By the time tyres are thrown over their heads like oversized necklaces, and the smell of petrol wafts so strong that some in the crowd cover their noses, madness has staked its claim on what is left of the day.” More than a year later, the father of one of the boys, looking for answers, contacts investigative psychologist Dr Philip Taiwo, who specialises in “studying the motives behind crimes and how they are committed”.... Tense and disturbing, Lightseekers draws on the real-life lynching and burning of four undergraduates at the University of Port Harcourt in 2012, and is Kayode’s attempt to “honour them and the victims of vigilantes across the world”. An impressive debut.
The book is enticing, compelling and cleverly written; the skills of Kayode as psychologist are dexterously employed. But the pre-eminent strength of Kayode’s writing lies in his characterisation. The ‘cast’ are all clearly visualised, enlivened – there are no long passages on character appearance, all is adroitly brought to life in dialogue. Conversational exchanges efficiently convey unspoken emotion, and we understand how heritage plays such an important role in another unspoken aspect – that of the hierarchy, the sense of place in society.
For a thoroughly engaging romp through a psychological thriller, this is one to read.
Although Lightseekers might seem overlong for a book focused on a single incident, Kayode uses this space to highlight aspects of his country, from the pervasive potency of religion to college fraternities that have morphed into criminal gangs. All are filtered through the sceptical, baffled perspective of his likeable sleuth, a semi-outsider who has flown in from Lagos and was previously teaching in the US.
This ambitious debut combines the story of a fish out of water with a gung-ho thriller involving drugs, sexual abuse, guns, corruption and a fiendishly clever lunatic. We are told, more than once, that “very little makes sense in this part of the world”. Femi Kayode is an atmospheric writer. It is to be hoped that he chooses to follow in the footsteps of Paul Theroux rather than Wilbur Smith.