Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Lightseekers by Femi Kayode. I heard the author speaking about this book at Bloody Scotland last year and couldn’t resist picking up a copy for my tbr shelf. I’m only embarrassed and kicking myself that it’s taken this long to read it. Here’s what it’s all about
About the Book
They already know who killed the men. What they don’t know is why.
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 realises that someone really doesn’t want him there and will do anything to prevent him learning the truth.
Will he uncover what really happened to the Okiri Three?
Okay. So I don’t know how I’m supposed to review this book. Or quite why I haven’t read it sooner. It’s the kind of book which really hits the mark, tapping into my love of crime fiction, but imbued with a sense of realism and of place that is so intense at times you can feel it’s impact radiate from the page. Giving an overwhelming sense of the dark side of Nigerian culture, and the ‘fraternities’ that have sprung up Nigerian universities which seem little more than a front for organised crime, the book hits hard from the very first page and then seems to settle into an understated and yet powerful portrayal of one man’s search for the truth in a community which refuses to share its secrets.
This is not your typical murder, nor is it your typical investigation. If you are easily offended you may want to skip the first chapter, a not quite graphic but certainly clear portrayal of a brutal act of mob culture in which three young men are killed by ‘necklacing’. We are present at the time of the act, and while not described in graphic detail, it doesn’t take a giant leap of imagination to understand the horrific nature of this act, or the fear that the three will have felt as they face certain death. What is not clear is the why, what these three are alleged to have done that would inspire such violence, and it is this that Dr Philip Taiwo is engaged to uncover. He is an academic, a man far outside of his area of expertise as far as investigations go, but one who is driven to act as a sign of respect for his father. What follows is an often tense, sometimes violent and truly unexpected exploration of the small Nigerian community in which the murders occured in a bid to see true justice served, and motivations of those who would push to keep it all buried.
Femi Kayode has developed some truly interesting characters. From Taiwo to Chika, the driver assigned to him as he visits Okriki, through to the local Chief and Inspector Omereji, each has a reason to hold back, a certain secret they are nursing or a community they would fight to protect. Add in the various academics at the local university campus and some of the victims former student colleagues, and you have a whole cast of characters who seem duplicitous in nature and make it very hard for Taiwo to get to the truth. There is a constant tension, a real sense of threat and the knowledge that things could escalate at any time which kept me on edge and kept the pacing of the book pitch perfect.
As an expression of Nigerian culture, the author seems to have done a stunning job, able to portray the almost obscene excess of the wealthy compared to the poverty of the townsfolk, and to clearly show the divisions that might have lead to such a drastic course of events. But there is a secondary thread in this story, one which serves to explain the motivations of the real orchestrator of events, because nothing in what happens in this book is entirely random. It is carefully planned, a chain reaction leading to one, final, catastrophic act that noone is really prepared for. But the corruption, bribery and violence which typifies life in Nigeria, the gangs that are driven from secret university societies and the exploitation of the poor and weak all has an unnerving kind of authenticity that underpins everything that happens. It drew me in, made me want to understand more, to be able to interpret the injustices and the authorities who might turn a blind eye and it kept me 100% invested in the story.
A truly addictive and immersive narrative that hits fast and hits hard and doesn’t let you go, even after the last page is turned. Most definitely recommended.