Book #24

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

When Korede's dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what's expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This'll be the third boyfriend Ayoola's dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede's long been in love with him, and isn't prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other.

This is a very clever, very dark novel which is written in a surprisingly disconnected and emotionless style. Korede’s sister, Ayoola, has killed three men - all boyfriends, all in apparent self-defence - and Korede has helped cover up each of the murders. Her devotion to her sister knows no limits until Ayoola becomes involved with Korede’s colleague, for whom Korede has been harbouring a secret passion.

The relationship between the sisters is possibly the most engaging part of this novel. One plain, one stunning, one quiet and unassuming, one a sparkling social star - the contrasts between them are almost caricature, and mixed in with the love they have for each other are multitudes of other emotions - jealousy, hatred, exasperation. Braithwaite weaves flashbacks into the plot to help us understand their deeply complex histories, and begin to comprehend where this mutual devotion has stemmed from.

Although marketed as a thriller, with quotes on the cover promising something wry and disturbing, it didn’t read like a usual thriller. Short and sharp chapters flicked us around quickly, making me feel jarred and confused. The narrative was clinical, and the characterisation found me finding difficulty to connect. The actual murder scenes read the same way, so I really feel the disturbing element here is the exploration of the sisters’ past - how trauma can shape a personality, and the person you were forced to be during that trauma can mould who you are for years to come.

So although not what I was expecting, My Sister, the Serial Killer is probably read best as a character study, rather than a dramatic murder thriller. It does live up to all the one sentence reviews on its cover, just not in the way you’d initially think.