Book Review: H.J. Golakai ‘s ‘The Lazarus Effect’ – Crime Fiction Meets Finesse

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Book Title: The Lazarus Effect

Author: H.J.Golakai

Publisher: Cassava Republic Press, 2016

Reviewer: Joseph Omotayo

Humanity is a lovely mess. Ours is a world where everybody is struggling against something. This world is always in a cyclical war of opposite binaries: of good and evil, love and hate, losses and gains, this and that. The Lazarus Effect arrays these binaries with spellbinding artistic finesse. Unlike many crime fiction stories, this book does not offer a sweetened climax. All the characters come to the end of the book scarred, with just enough redemption to go by.

The characters in The Lazarus Effect are tied up in different complications. Ian Fourie pursues his career over his love for Adele Paulsen. Life happened to both of them or rather Ian moved on, and later had a family. Years after, he would come face to face with the love he thought he had left behind. Jacqui is the boomerang effect of that love that never really died between them. This becomes the beginning of a messy end for Ian, his family, and Adele Paulsen. A love child raised by a single mother, Jacqui constantly pines for paternal care. So when the need arises to save Sean, one of Ian’s marital children, from cancer, and she’s found to be a medical match, she agrees easily.

In this intriguing plot we also discover the tension between Ian’s marital family and Adele Paulsen, the mistress – a tension that would wreck many things, even after Jacqui’s mysterious death. Everything about the Fouries is in overburdened smithereens which they intend to hide. And they almost succeed at this until Vee (Voinjama Johnson), a journalist, begins to pry into their lives.

The Lazarus Effect is also very much about Vee. Vee, an investigative journalist, goes after the sudden disappearance of Jacqui with a gusto that tends towards personal redemption. She meanders between fighting the demons of her past and dealing with her chaotic emotions for Joshua and Titus. The character of Vee moves this narrative smoothly as Golakia fleshes her out with lush prose. With her character, Golakia is able to show the deep recesses of the human mind.

In exploring the family drama of the Fouries, the jarring loss of Adele Paulsen, the strong protectiveness of Carina, the misplaced emotion of Ashwin Venter, the complexity of Vee, and the puzzling sibling love between all Ian’s children, The Lazarus Effect branches into other themes that border on mental health, avarice, gangsterism, betrayal, abandonment and destructive teenage delinquents. The writer’s ability to deal with all these intricacies makes this book a keeper.

This book throws up the mystery it intends to deal with early enough. Jacqui’s death is this mystery. And her death occurrs before the book begins. None, or perhaps not all, of the characters know this for sure. All they know is that Jacqui has been missing for a very long time. Coupled with being a journalist, Vee doubles as an intelligent detective in solving Jacqui’s disappearance. With the help of Bishop Chloe, a wannabe journalist and her assistant, they launch into the dark corners that almost claim them in their mission to locate Jacqui.

H.J.Golakai uses conversation between characters to create nuances that touch deeply. There are many places in this book that speak to the reader. Language can sometimes transit to create something deeper than what it is intended for. When language does this in a novel, one can pull bits of expressions together and relate with them in a different way. Language may be limited in describing our world as the Structuralists opine, but language could also transcend this limitation when it evokes reflection in the reader.Take for instance these statements:

“Shame is for lonely people.”

“Society extolled the virtues of strength, but nobody ever gave any solid advice about how to break down properly.”

Concise and poetic, you don’t need to know what conversation those sentences are from, or who utters them, you are hooked nonetheless.

However, a few things put me off about this book. One, H.J.Golakai seems too careful about what some characters say, she apparently doesn’t want them to offend. She dutifully checks them, much to my chagrin. In as much as characters are the writer’s creation, they should be allowed free moments. But H.J. Golakai seems too mindful of the criticisms that would come later.

Here, speaking of tweaking a phone’s IMEI, Chloe makes a comment about Nigerians and quickly apologies later in what can be seen as the writer’s tepid attempt at character moderation:

“It’s called the International Mobile Equipment Identity or IMEI number. If the phone gets blocked that should render it useless, but nowadays any dodgy Nigerian shop can unblock it for you for, like, a hundred, two hundred rand.

Vee cleared her throat pointedly.

Oops, er, sorry. Not that I’m implying that all Nigerians are shady, or that dodgy cells phone shops are run by Nigerians….”

The writer does this same thing to Rosie when she makes the character explain her deep brilliant knowledge of Freudian Psychoanalysis. This is not cool. Also, I think this book should really have ended in chapter 44.

The few shortcomings notwithstanding, The Lazarus Effect is quite an enjoyable read.

Joseph Omotayo

Joseph Omotayo is a book critic, event planner and webmaster.

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