The premise for Gaslight, the second novel from Nigerian author Femi Kayode, is a seemingly simple one. The wife of an influential Lagosian bishop has gone missing following a violent struggle and the bishop hires investigative psychologist Philip Taiwo to not only clear his name but to assist the police in finding out the truth about what happened to his wife.
This premise does not remain so simple, naturally, and Kayode shows that same sprawling sense of narrative and skill at weaving in complex motives that made his first novel Lightseekers (the same to debut Taiwo and his cast of friends and family), a refreshing spin on the mystery. This time however, Kayode has switched gears, moving from Lightseekers‘ whydunnit, to Gaslight‘s whodunnit, which, technically is a more traditional mystery model, but instead gives Kayode room to ramp up the tension and set pieces, infusing a palpable sense of ominous danger hovering about Philip and his loved ones.
The storyline, without spoiling the various twists, turns, and breath-stealing plot developments, squares itself on organised religion and the dark underbellies within, pulling real-world inspirations into Kayode’s vision of contemporary Nigeria. Here true faith battles for place against the spectre of hypocrisy and false piety, and it’s up to Philip and his allies – primarily the delightful Chika, a standout – to uncover the real truth, suggesting comparisons to the kind of deep-rooted corruption that often plagues organised religion (this reviewer couldn’t help but find comparisons, tone-wise to Dolores Redondo’s exemplary noir All This I Will Give To You).
It helps that Taiwo is a likeable, flawed hero, trying to be a good man, even when he feels like he is failing on all fronts. The major subplot this time around helps to establish Taiwo’s dynamic within his family, moving from his marriage to the fiery, fabulous Folake, now to his relationship with teenage daughter Lara. The actual subplot doesn’t loop into the major narrative arc of the novel, but instead manages to be a thoughtful exploration of the pressures of teenage life, the fractures that come from major life changes, and the pervasive threat of colourism.
Ultimately Gaslight is a marked improvement over Lightseekers, an impressive feat in itself, and an invigorating, propulsive thriller about corruption and trauma. Kayode is rapidly carving out a niche for himself as a skilled, humane mystery writer, and if he continues to craft compelling stories like Gaslight, he’ll soon find himself a household name amongst avid mystery readers, and for good reason.
Gaslight is out on 9th November from Raven Books.