In Femi Kayode’s Gaslight, as in his 2021 debut, Lightseekers, readers inhabit the mind of Dr. Philip Taiwo—an unsurprisingly fascinating place to be, considering Taiwo is an investigative psychologist created by an author trained as a clinical psychologist. Mystery fans who revel in an intricate tale that focuses on the “why” of criminal behavior will enjoy this slow burning and atmospheric thriller.
Now living in his native Lagos, Nigeria, after 20 years in the U.S. (including several years working for the San Francisco Police Department’s internal affairs division), Taiwo is no stranger to questioning government officials while contending with obfuscation and antagonism. That serves him well when his sister, Kenny, asks him for help: Sade Dawodu, wife of wealthy and powerful megachurch bishop Jeremiah Dawodu, is missing, and the bishop’s been arrested for her murder.
The Grace Church elders see Sade—a vibrant young woman who occasionally disappears for days at a time—as impulsive and flighty, and thus aren’t overly concerned. But Kenny’s gut tells her something’s different this time, and she implores her brother and his associate Chika (a trained sniper and combat veteran) to find Sade.
Taiwo’s professional curiosity evolves into relentless determination as he uncovers corruption in the church and local government, and realizes the elders are more focused on clearing the bishop’s name than on finding Sade. Is that due to an intense reverence for the man, or is something more sinister afoot? Taiwo’s ambivalence about organized religion is brought to the fore as peril and violence rise up around him. “The more I dig into the case of the missing first lady, the more frayed at the edges what little faith I have becomes,” he thinks.
With Gaslight, Kayode urges readers to consider the risks of imbuing an individual with prodigious power, and the ways in which groupthink can take hold of an otherwise decent person or system. That, plus an emotionally complex narrator and a cast of well-developed characters, makes Gaslight a provocative and memorable mystery.