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Book Review: Lightseekers by Femi Kayode

White cat and a Kindle on the lap of a person wearing red sweatpants and a black and white striped sweatshirt. The Kindle shows the cover for the crime novel titled Lightseekers by Femi Kayode set in Nigeria

“I’ve seen how easy it is for people to be manipulated, Emeka,’ I say sadly. ‘All it takes is careful observation of trends and behavioural patterns and it can be pretty easy to make people do what you want them to do. Especially in a group.”

Lightseekers by Femi Kayode is not just your regular crime fiction but is based on actual events. Femi familiarises readers with the town, its people, and their history while trying to figure out what went wrong. I’ve been reading books from around the world for the genre. This year, I’m becoming more familiar with other countries and their cultures. This book hit all the right notes, and I recommend you add this to your reading list.

The Book: Lightseekers

Lightseekers starts when three young students are brutally and publically murdered in a remote Nigerian university town of Port Harcourt. In this digital age, the killings and their killers are broadcasted on social media, further traumatising their parents. It is obvious who murdered them, but no one knows why. One of the students’ fathers hires an investigative psychologist to make sense of his son’s murder. We follow Dr Philip Taiwo as he investigates the case.

Lightseekers was inspired by the necklace killing of four undergraduates in a university town in Nigeria and is Femi Kayode’s debut novel and the first in the series of novels about the investigations of Philip Taiwo. The book won the UEA/Brown Little Crime Fiction Award in 2019.

The Author: Femi Kayode

Femi Kayode is from Lagos, Nigeria, where he studied Clinical Psychology at the University of Ibadan and has worked in advertising. 

In an interview with The Bookseller, he says, “I come from a school of thought that believes crimes don’t exist in isolation. And I’ve gotten a bit frustrated by the Western model of crime fiction, where it’s so focused on the serial killer and doesn’t address the society that gave rise to the serial killer. We’re so focused on finding the killer that we don’t wonder why it’s not safe for a single woman to walk in the dark. What is the society that is not allowing young women to walk on the streets on their own? We’re not investigating that because we’re so focused on finding the killer, and when we do, we move on to the next ‘Who did it?’ But I think when we start finding out ‘Why did it?’, we start to look at certain sociological, systemic issues around our community, and what we can do to make a change.” 

The Plot Unfolds

‘It scares me,’ Omereji says sadly. ‘And it’s true what you say. But what scares me most is seeing how easily people can be manipulated.’

Dr Philip Taiwo has moved back to Nigeria after living in the US and is now looked upon as an outsider in his own homeland. He is an investigative psychologist, an expert in crowd behaviour and violence, teaching at a university in Lagos when an influential man asks for his service as he is desperate for some answers to his son’s murder. 

Philip is persuaded by his father to go to the town where the killings happened. At first, the crime seems like a case of mob justice getting out of control as the students had been accused of stealing. But as he digs deeper, he realises something doesn’t add up. 

His driver and travel guide, Chika, who the father employs, is hiding something that seems more than his job description. The local police, the townspeople, the religious leaders, and the university are all trying to hush up the matter.

Philip seems to be in the deep end when he uncovers more details and realises that continuing with the case would mean putting his life in danger.

The Social Commentary

The human stories about a crime are as important as the crime scene itself.

When Femi talk about college cults, I assumed he meant fraternities that are popular in the US, which are mostly harmless groups based on shared interests. However, the college cults in Nigeria have evolved into violent student groups and have to operate in secrecy. They are akin to gangs and often politically or religiously aligned.

Femi also mentions the outdated law that criminalises homosexuality and how it can be easily misused.

Femi also brings to light some of the region’s troubled history, such as the terrors of the Biafran civil war and the discovery of oil. Fights for control of lands led to the devastating destruction of the land and horrifying violence. 

The author also mentions the enormous wealth gap in the country. Where some can hire people to wait in lines for them, there are towns and villages without basic infrastructure and electricity. These issues have led to widespread corruption at every level, and the exchange of bribes is a given wherever you go.

The backstory of the criminal is interspersed with the storyline. Raised in a problematic household, he is involved in drugs, religious fanaticism, and homosexuality. However, I felt that it was a weak way to explain away the motive.

Finally, the aspect of the crime that hit close to home was how someone could manipulate a whole population through social media. We live in a dystopian age where a single line manipulating facts broadcast worldwide can cause widespread discord and division. With social media companies refusing to act on it, this problem is set to get much worse.

Note: Some links are part of an affiliate program, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I might receive a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you. 

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