Book Review: Lightseekers

Christiana Jolaoso
5 min readMay 26, 2024

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by Femi Kayode

In Lightseekers, we trace the thrilling adventures of Dr. Phillip Taiwo and his companion, Chika Makuochi, as they unearth the intricate details of the gruesome murder of three university students in the small fictional town of Okriki in Port Harcourt, Southern Nigeria. Dr. Taiwo, an investigative psychologist whose expertise centers around the why of a crime, is hired by Emeka, the grieving father of one of the three boys, to uncover the truth about the death of his son. He initially refuses, stating that he is not a detective and that his work is more of writing reports on why certain crimes happen and how to stem future occurrences. When Emeka insists, Philip is moved by his fatherly instincts, and his decision to take the challenge is further influenced by a shocking revelation from his father and a desire to forget his troubled marriage.

From the moment he enters the town in the company of his mysterious driver and eventual sidekick, Chika, the reality of the situation hits him; this is more than a ‘report’ or academic study. The challenge before them quickly evolves into a complex, convoluted case involving the uncooperative local police, secret cults and ‘confraternities’, drug rings, and violence. The hostile locals are no help, either. With the bad publicity the community has been exposed to for the viral mob execution of the ‘Okriki Three’, they consider Dr. Taiwo and Chika as intruders trying to jeopardize the stability they are struggling to restore. In this fast-paced crime fiction, Philip and Chika must scale through these challenges and get to the root of these unexplainable murders.

The book is divided into four ‘acts’, beginning with a quote about Light and its behavior. This detail highlights one of the story’s prominent themes: the struggle between light and darkness, light referring to the truth and how it keeps evading their grasp as they search high and low for it. The author alternates between the first-person perspectives of the two main characters; Philip, the force of good, and John Paul, the apparent force of evil and the villain in the story. The narration style affords us a unique view into the motivation, fears, and hopes and allows for excellent character development.

The John Paul subplot is significant as it provides a good background for our villainous grand orchestrator without needing long paragraphs dedicated to that sole purpose. It establishes that nothing is random and everything plays out in a perfectly planned chain reaction. Before the book reaches its denouement, any attentive reader can already resolve the building of suspense and intrigue before the characters themselves.

The plot is cleverly constructed, thrilling, and increasingly fast-paced as we approach the climax. The dialogue is lively and purposeful and lets us decipher the nature of each character. No character is ever described in specific terms. Still, our protagonist's dialogues, reactions, and thoughts are expertly crafted to serve the dual purpose of driving the plot while also developing each character.

It is refreshing to note how Femi Kayode seamlessly infuses real-life issues bedeviling the Nigerian socio-political landscape in his narrative. These issues are never forced upon the narrative like a quota that must be fulfilled (a trap many Nigerian authors fall into). They don’t appear randomly in odd portions of the narrative. Instead, they pop up where they are ideally suited to appear. In places where he highlights problems like university strikes, bad roads, poor electricity, bribery, etc., the elements are never forcibly stapled onto the story.

This quality makes Lightseekers a stark illustration of contemporary Nigeria. Through Philip Taiwo’s perspective, we are immersed in an accurate reality: the existence of wealth and poverty side by side (Lagos and Port-Harcourt are apparent opposites to Okriki), weak government institutions, poor public infrastructure, and the general normalization of ‘madness’. As Philip puts it, “Maybe everything’s not so senseless, after all… There’s a method to this madness”. Femi Kayode also takes a quick detour to trace the history of secret cults and ‘confraternities’ and how groups targeted at social change have descended into bloody criminal gangs on campuses across the country, a recurring element in the story. Even Civil War memories are shown to have far-reaching implications in contemporary Nigeria.

It also paints a picture of how proper, functional foreign societies work (especially in the United States, where Dr. Philip Taiwo and his family previously lived) compared to how virtually nothing works in Nigeria. Despite never feeling American enough, Philip soon finds that even back home, he feels like an outsider. He is forced to compare how things would have played out when he was still abroad compared to how they play out here.

The ending of the book is superbly done. We see most characters get closure on the burdens they start with. Philip solves the tension with his wife, Folake, and the conflicting tension with the confident and attractive Salome Briggs is stemmed. Mike Omereji proves his mettle as a police inspector, while the grieving Emeka finally accepts the death of his son and abandons his vengeful schemes.

The outcome of the investigation puts a lot of questions to bed. The inconclusive ending (for the characters, as readers are aware of everything) makes the investigation practical and grounded in reality. They came for answers, and although they find a lot in the end, they leave with a resolution that still has them accounting for some niggling details with assumptions. The absence of these details is just befitting for such a complex, evil, and colossal scheme. It leaves the reader to decipher the conclusion on their own. It triggers your imagination and forces you to put two and two together.

In a nutshell, this book ticks every box that a crime fiction novel should tick. The twists, the suspense, and the surprises are very satisfying and well-executed. There is a constant sense of danger around the protagonist, who comes close to dying at least twice. Although the language is mild, the sense of goriness in every scene that needs to be violent and gory can not be mistaken. At some point, the dilemma conveys a sense of hopelessness, that sinking feeling that this mysterious web will never be untangled. It all makes for an exciting read.

The dynamic forged between Philip and Chika is also enjoyable. They complement each other well, and their mutual understanding comes to the fore in every interaction. It is reminiscent of a Sherlock Holmes and Watson-Esque connection, that of a brilliant detective and his trusty sidekick. They may similarly appear in more detective stories. If this is the start of a crime series involving this powerful duo, we certainly can’t wait!

In conclusion, Lightseekers is a masterpiece and must-read for Nigerians and anyone who loves crime fiction. The plaudits have started trickling in as the book won the Brown/UEA Award for Crime Fiction in 2019 while unpublished! For his first crack at a novel, this is a powerful introduction to the brilliance of Femi Kayode.

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Christiana Jolaoso

Thoughts on peace and kindness and how our actions can give us the desired future. Summaries of stories with lessons that steer positive actions.