Lightseekers by Femi Kayode #BookReview #FirstMondayCrime

 

Winner of the 2019 UEA Crime Writing Prize, Lightseekers is the start of a major new crime series introducing investigative psychologist Dr Philip Taiwo.

When three young students are brutally murdered in a Nigerian university town, their killings - and their killers - are 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. But Philip is an expert in crowd behaviour and violence, not a detective, and after travelling to the sleepy university town that bore witness to the killings, he soon feels dramatically out of his depth.

It's almost March which means it's time for the first First Monday Crime panel of 2021 and what a line-up it is! At 7;30pm on Monday 1st March,  join Tim Glister (Red Corona), Nadine Matheson (The Jigsaw Man), Femi Kayode (Lightseekers) and Abigail Dean (Girl A) and moderator Leye Adenle on Facebook Live.
I'm delighted to be sharing my review of Lightseekers today, many thanks to Femi Kayode, Joy Kluver and Raven Books for inviting me and for my copy of the novel.

Lightseekers is Femi Kayode's debut and thankfully is just the first book in the Dr Philip Taiwo series because I absolutely loved this multilayered, atmospheric novel which is rightly being widely lauded. 
This isn't an ordinary crime thriller and Philip isn't an ordinary protagonist. He's an investigative psychologist whose expertise lies in studying the motives behind crimes and so it's understandable why Emeka Nwamadi would ask him to investigate the circumstances surrounding his son, Kevin's horrific death.  The book's opening scene has already revealed the terrifying, heinous nature of the crime, a mob lynching in which three young men - Kevin, Winston and Bona -  are violently attacked before being brutally murdered. 
However, the attack took place over a year ago and those named as the killers are facing justice and so it would appear that the case is closed. Indeed, Philip's wife, Folake wonders what he hopes to achieve trying to solve a cold case although he attempts to explain that he is trying to understand why the boys were killed rather than what happened to them.  One of the things I most liked about him is his humanity. He is interested on a professional level but more than that, he is moved to help as a fellow father and it's this empathy which drives him throughout. The three young men are collectively known as the Okriki Three, after the university town where they were slain but even before he arrives there, Philip realises he is not going to be made welcome.
Although Nigerian himself, Philip has spent most of his adult life in the States and has only recently returned to Lagos. Throughout the book he is very much the outsider but this makes him the ideal conduit for readers, most of whom will be even more unfamiliar with modern Nigeria than he is. The challenges facing the country are explored to devastating effect here, perhaps most notably the issues caused by the proximity of university to town and the criminal activities of the college confraternities which are often described as cult gangs. The abiding consequences of the bloody civil war mean societal divisions - wealth, education and religion have become even more inflammatory and with a community ripe for manipulation, Okiri always feels like a town on the brink of further violence.
Emeka sends Philip a driver, Chika but he quickly realises the man has other talents and what begins as a formal relationship gradually becomes something more akin to friendship. Nevertheless, an air of mystery surrounds the charismatic Chika and the changing dynamic between the pair becomes an important and intriguing part of the story. Meanwhile, there are promising glimpses into Philip's family life which I'm looking forward to being developed further as the series progresses and with the role of fathers having a poignant part to play here, I'm especially interested to learn more about the relationship he has with his own father.
As their investigation progresses, there are occasional chapters written by a third party which gradually reveal a truth behind the killings which they may never fully know. These chilling insights add to the pervasive malevolence which permeates throughout Lightseekers; the inevitability of more violence means the storyline is as tense as it is compelling. The taut pacing allows for some excellent character development as the propulsive plot heads relentlessly towards the stunning conclusion. 
 Although the truth is eventually revealed, I particularly admired the questions that are still left unanswered at the end. It's a thought-provoking, complex thriller which transported me to Nigeria and despite the inescapable violence and unrest, has left me desperately looking forward to a return. Lightseekers is an exceptional debut and Femi Kayode is an author to watch.

Lightseekers was published by Raven Books, a Bloomsbury imprint on 4th February 2021. It can be purchased from Amazon and Waterstones but please support independent bookstores whenever possible, either by ordering directly or through bookshop.org.

About the Author
Femi Kayode has spent the last two decades in advertising. In fits and starts. In between, he was a Packard Gates Fellow in Film at the University of Southern California and a Gates Fellow in International Health at the University of Washington. He also managed to build an impressive resume on prime-time television by creating, writing and developing several award-winning TV dramas.
He recently completed an MA in Crime Fiction at the University of East Anglia, where his novel Lightseekers won the Little, Brown / UEA Crime Fiction Award.

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