They already know who committed the murders – the question now is why?
Such an intriguing tagline forms the premise of the debut novel from Nigerian author Femi Kayode, who looks set to kick off a thrilling new crime series based around clinical psychologist Dr Philip Taiwo, who is plucked from his increasingly uncomfortable home life to help an old friend of his father’s discover the truth behind a shocking crime that has devastated a local community. Set in Nigeria, Lightseekers follows Philip as he contends with uncovering why a trio of young men were brutally murdered in a small university town, a crime seemingly caught on social media, but which has a deeper and darker truth that Philip must help bring to the surface.
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From the outset, Kayode does a fantastic job of establishing his hero, Philip, making him both intelligent and flawed, someone who battles the idea of his wife potentially cheating on him, as well as balancing tense relationships within his own immediate family and the idea of what it means to belong – to a wife, to a family, to a country.
This first book, in what is set to be a globe-trotting crime series, is grounded in building up Philip as a protagonist that readers can relate to and root for, and Kayode does this well, bringing out shades of psychologically-inclined leads such as James Patterson’s Alex Cross or Jeffrey Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme. It also helps that Kayode builds a crew of interesting supporting characters around Philip, including the helpful Chika, the combative Emeka, father of one of the murdered boys, and the enigmatic Salome.
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Kayode’s writing is crisp and engaging, evoking the humid, oppressive environment that Philip finds himself under; on his first night on the case, Philip awakens from a nightmare to the muggy, suffocating late-night air that offers no reprieve even when the sun goes down. The plot itself provides an interesting spin on the typical crime format, as an investigative psychologist explores crimes through the prevalent lens of social media and current politics, bringing a thoroughly modern sensibility to a classic crime concept.
More interestingly, it’s clear that Kayode is comfortable with the more cerebral aspects of this first case – Kayode reportedly has a background in both clinical psychology and advertising – and it’s enjoyable to see the more clinical aspects of psychopathology explored in relation to the heinous crimes committed. Kayode is perhaps less comfortable with the more criminal side of things but his overall writing style is compulsive and immensely readable, propelling the reader along as Philip races to uncover the truth behind the killings and exploring the uncomfortable truths, both past and present, that shade and shape Lightseekers‘ Nigerian setting.
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It’s not too hard to see Lightseekers sitting comfortably amongst similar titles and more established authors, such as Dolores Redondo’s excellent Baztan trilogy of supernatural-flavoured crime thrillers or LJ Ross’ globe-trotting Dr Alexander Gregory series, which is all the more commendable given that this is Kayode’s first venture in the world of fiction, although he does have the creation of several television series under his belt already.
Ultimately Lightseekers is an impressive debut that demonstrates a deft hand with character and plot that Kayode should be proud of. It’s perhaps a little presumptuous to place the mantle of an entire character on his first story – after all, seldom are fictional detectives made in their first outings but in the ones that come after – but if Lightseekers is any indication, then we should be looking forward to more stories of Dr Philip Taiwo and the birth of an exciting new hero to root for.
Lightseekers is out in hardback and Kindle on 4th February from Raven Books.