Femi Kayode’s Lightseekers is big news. Selected by Metro, iNews, the Independent, DeadGood , ShotsMagazine and CrimeReads as one of 2021’s most anticipated reads, Kayode’s debut is not only the beginning of his career in crime fiction, but also the launch of a promising new international crime series.
All crime series need a good detective. Meet Dr Philip Taiwo. He’s a clinical psychologist, born and educated in Nigeria. He moved to the US to study, establish his career, raise a family. After returning to Nigeria with his wife and children, Taiwo finds himself a stranger in his own country. There are challenges in the landscape – after such a long absence, he must re-acquaint himself with many Nigerian customs. There are challenges at home, friction between himself and his successful, lawyer wife. And then there’s the biggest challenge of all – a request from a grieving father, asking him to look further into the murder of his son.
There are seven people already on trial for the crime. In a Nigerian University town, a mob descended on three young students and murdered them brutally. The killings were captured on social media, assailants detained. Everyone knows who killed them. Now they need to know why.
Dr Philip Taiwo is an expert in crowd behaviour, has written papers on lynch mobs in the American South and the ways in which crowds can get away with murder. The grieving father, who is a classmate of Taiwo’s own father, thinks Philip is perfect for the job. But, of course, writing a paper isn’t the same as investigating a triple-murder, and soon Philip is out of his depth. In the wake of tragedy, in a now-strange land, Philip has to make alliances, make connections, before it’s too late.
In Lightseekers, Kayode seems to understand that, no matter the crime, no matter the setting, one of the most compelling elements of any crime series is the relationship between the detectives. And so, he created Chika. Sent as a driver by Philip’s employer, it’s Chika’s job to guide Philip around, from suspect to suspect, from crime scene to hotel. But Kayode deftly gives Chika mystery and charisma, the skills he needs to help Philip escape from a number of scrapes. It’s this central, constantly-shifting relationship that acts as the emotional anchor to the story. Two different men, with two very different lives, facing a challenge that, very quickly, seems to spiral out of either of their control.
Femi Kayode is a busy man. While he wrote Lightseekers, he continued to run his own successful marketing agency. Before that, he trained as a clinical psychologist in Nigeria (experience that no doubt helps him channel his detective Philip Taiwo), and worked as a writer on several prime-time TV shows. He’s got a lot on his plate. As a result, he doesn’t hang about on the page. You begin a page with Philip mid-interview. By the end you’re back in the Land Crusier, shooting across the uneven streets of Okrika, on your way to someone else. This unrelenting, slightly frantic pacing will enthral some readers, make the experience even more gripping and pleasurable. But it might give others whip-lash. Indeed, there are times when the focus of the writing seems slightly mis-placed. Some scenes seem ripped away from the reader, at a point when it could be interesting to dive a little deeper.
This is particularly true towards the end of the novel. The finale is explosive and relentless – possibly too much so. In the frenzy, some moments seem glossed-over. Opportunities for further drama seem to pass unmined. But perhaps this is simply evidence of Kayode’s experience writing for the screen. The writing is cinematic, brimming with tense action scenes, establishing shots, action sequences. I can see Taiwo and Chika, rumbling down the road in their Land Crusier, straight onto the silver screen. The book, the series, seems built for TV. In Hollywood style, most of the women are brilliant and beautiful. The simmering love triangle consists of Taiwo, his wife, a beautiful, brilliant lawyer, and new acquaintance, Salome Briggs, a beautiful, brilliant lawyer. It’ll get some people’s goat, but others will be too busy, carried away by the plot, the tense, atmospheric writing, to consider this too deeply.
In an interview with UEA, the university where he studied for his MA and began to write Lightseekers, Kayode describes the novel as ‘a kind love-letter to my home country, Nigeria.’ And it’s time to whip out the cliché – the setting really is a character in the novel. Though the crime is brutal and terrible, though the atmosphere Kayode builds is tense and charged with danger, Lightseekers does still somehow make you want to get on a plane and go. The dusty streets, the heat of the Mama Patience Canteen; it’s settings like these where Kayode’s love for the place shines through and bring light to this story of trauma, of grief and death.
And at a time where travelling is impossible, it’s this power to take you to new places, to step inside strangers, that that makes reading not just a pleasant pastime, but a necessity. It reminds you there are other places, other people, more life, beyond your own, small world.
About the Reviewer
Ellen Lavelle is a post-graduate alumni of The University of Warwick’s Writing Programme. She’s worked as a journalist, bookseller and freelance writer. Now, she works as a digital copywriter and is the co-editor of Nothing in the Rulebook. You can find her short stories and interviews with authors on NITRB and her blog. You can follow her @ellenrlavelle on Twitter.