Saturday, February 6, 2021


LIGHTSEEKERS by Femi Kayode (Bloomsbury Raven, 2021)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Three young students are brutally murdered in a Nigerian university town, their killings - and their killers - caught on social media. The world knows who murdered them; what no one knows is why.

As the legal trial begins, investigative psychologist Philip Taiwo is contacted by the father of one of the boys, desperate for some answers to his son's murder. Philip is an expert in crowd behaviour and violence but travelling to the sleepy university town that bore witness to the killings, he soon feels dramatically out of his depth.

Years spent first studying, then living in the US with his wife and children mean he is unfamiliar with many Nigerian customs and no one involved in the case seems willing to speak out. The more Philip digs, and the more people he meets with a connection to the case, the more he begins to realise that there is something very wrong concealed somewhere in this community. 

Two years after three university students are paraded through the streets of a dusty Nigerian town then brutally murdered, investigative psychologist Dr Philip Taiwo heads south from Lagos to find out why. An academic researcher with expertise in crowd behavior and mob violence, Taiwo and his family have recently returned home after many years in the United States. He’s not used to being out in the field, but is arm-twisted by the pleadings of his own father, and the father of one of the murdered boys.

An angry crowd. Beatings, bricks, and burning tyres. A modern-day lynching in southern Nigeria, broadcast for the world to see on social media. Why? What could have possibly provoked such a brutally violent act by so many townsfolk? Even if the boys were thieves, as some have claimed, why such a vicious response, and why did so many people stand around and watch it happen? While several people are now on trial for the killings, plenty of questions remain. Can Taiwo utilize his research into lynchings in the American South and other acts of mob violence around the world, to uncover the truth?

Hired by a banking magnate whose son was a victim, and ably assisted by Chika, a driver who seems to have a lot of other skills, Taiwo is confronted by a hostile township and local police force. Do they just want to move on, understandably, from the horrors inflicted in their community and the global notoriety that followed, or are they covering up something even worse? Something to kill for, again.

LIGHTSEEKERS is an exceptional crime novel, that just happens to be a debut. Kayode crafts a wonderfully evocative sense of people and place, immersing readers in the physical and societal landscapes. The Namibia-based author finely balances exciting action and rising tension with thoughtful explorations of a variety of issues such as social media misinformation and the conflation of justice and violence. As Taiwo undertakes a harrowing, dangerous investigation he traverses luxury hotels to scummy apartments of drug addicts, and broaches conflicts between Muslims and Christians, locals and students. There’s quite a lot of texture to this tale but it never overwhelms the story. A bruising, intense read from a powerful new voice in crime fiction. Hopefully just the beginning for Femi Kayode and Dr Philip Taiwo.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. His first non-fiction book, SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, was published in 2020. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

No comments:

Post a Comment