Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Features Writer
1:01 AM 27th April 2024

The God Business: Gaslight By Femi Kayode

Whatever the organisation, there is always the possibility of malpractice, of fraud, of people taking the helm who are not as innocent as they should be, and that goes for religious groups as much as anything else. This novel explores the darker side of the fictional Grace Church, led by the less than pious Bishop Jeremiah Dawodu, where fraud, rape and even murder are concealed beneath pure white robes.

The Prologue confirms that someone hates the Bishop; someone wants him framed for their murder; someone wants him to be publicly humiliated – but the reason is not revealed. The Prologue takes the form of a letter, giving instructions, but neither the sender nor the recipient is identified. The novel is punctuated by several more such missives, evidence that someone is controlling the narrative. There is no preamble to the novel. Bang! We’re in it. The Nigerian setting makes it feel remote but no less intriguing as we are introduced to the major players.

There is no preamble to the novel. Bang! We’re in it.
We quickly learn that the First Lady of the Church has gone missing and although no corpse has been found, Bishop Dawodu is very publicly arrested on suspicion of her murder. Dr Philip Taiwo, an investigative psychologist, is introduced to the Elders by his sister, herself a member of the church. He is subsequently hired to discover who is behind the drama and to clear the Pastor’s name.

He quickly discovers there is much to learn about Folasade, the First Lady, not least that she is considerably younger than her husband and that she is not popular with several of the congregants who disapprove of aspects of her behaviour, especially her absences which could ‘last for days at a time’. She is a trustee of a non-governmental organisation ‘Girls in Control’, dedicated to supporting and empowering young women, and while her methods might be extreme, that is a major clue to solving this particular mystery and untangling what becomes a more and more complicated web of dark secrets, intrigue and lies.

When Dr Taiwo begins with a digital search for the ‘victim’, he discovers a single powerful moment captured in an image when the only word to describe the look on the face of the First Lady, is scorn. Her disdain for her husband and everything he stands for, is clear for all to see. The reason why that is the case is part of the mystery. Nothing is straightforward.

The narrative moves slowly but I advise you to stick with it; clues are scattered liberally although investigations are not helped by corruption in the ranks. There are bodies, including one hurled from a car outside the home of Dr Taiwo - a sinister warning; the ubiquitous list of names which cannot be revealed, the nauseating video which ultimately reveals why the events take place. There is bribery and torture; there are threats to family and friends. As the danger to Dr Taiwo increases so, too, does the pace of the narrative, until the full extent of the sordid underbelly of an organisation which should never have been allowed to grow, is revealed.

Nothing is straightforward. The narrative moves slowly but I advise you to stick with it...
‘Religion is the opium of the masses.’ It has its place and undeniably provides comfort, solace and much, much more for millions of people. The number of ‘churches’ has grown far beyond the obvious, however, and ‘megachurches’ abound. In Nigeria, with its severe austerity measures and a military junta not known for its compassion, religion offers the possibility of hope and of community. Putting your trust in a higher power can be an effective way to cope. Not all such organisations are criminal but where there is blind faith, human failing and a charismatic figurehead, the potential for abuse grows and this novel offers one example of how innocence can be shockingly exploited.

As well as addressing some heavy themes, not least the challenges and abuse some women face, there is a subplot, which helps to ground the novel. The family dynamics surrounding Dr Taiwo are relatively normal. He has a highly intelligent wife who is a dominant matriarch, and three children or rather teenagers – which should say it all. The three adolescents have been pulled out of the life they know in America and brought ‘home’ to Nigeria, but the honeymoon is over and they want to return. The ‘problem’ of skin colour is thoughtfully dealt with and the conclusion to that particular issue is satisfactorily reached – perhaps a little too easily but nonetheless, it means the novel can end on a positive note.

Gaslight is published by Raven Books