Review: My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

TQWT4610[1]My Sister, the Serial Killer; what a sentence to say aloud! As soon as I heard these words uttered on BookTube I instantly knew that this was a book I desperately needed to read. It conjures up crazy scenes and scenarios in your head, pulling you along for the ride before you’ve even opened the book itself. In short, the very concept that the title of this book suggested seemed entirely fascinating to me, and on a recent trip to London I rapturously purchased myself a copy.

Obviously this book is called My Sister, the Serial Killer, with obvious connotations, but what is it really about? Our main protagonist is Korede, a young woman who works as a nurse in the local hospital. One night her dinner is interrupted by a seemingly innocuous phone call from her sister, Ayoola; she’s done it again, killing her third boyfriend in a claim of ‘self-defence’. Korede goes to her aid, helping her dispatch of the body and hide the evidence. She knows the right thing to do would be to go to the police, but she loves her little sister, despite their complicated relationship. That is, until Ayoola turns up at the hospital Korede works in, catching the eyes of the doctor Korede has been in love with for the longest time. She knows she needs to save him from the trends of her sister’s past, but how can she do so when saving this man means betraying her own sister?

As you might expect from a book with such a punchy title, it wastes no time is drawing the reader right into the middle of the action. The very first lines of the book are chilling enough in their own right; ‘Ayoola summons me with these words – Korede, I killed him. I had hoped I would never hear those words again.’ (p. 1) Short yet powerful, these words fill us in immediately on the current state of affairs, setting the tone of the novel brilliantly. From this shocking revelation of death, the author moves us quickly into a rather clinical account of the bleaches and cleaning products Korede uses to get rid of the blood and evidence. It’s clear from her approach and the knowledge she possesses that Korede has become rather expert in this kind of situation, getting on dispassionately with the task required On the other hand, she cannot bear to look at the body slumped in the corner, a clear reminder of what her sister has done, and what she is helping conceal.

One of the things which is a running theme throughout this novel, and which we’ve seen proven true time and time again, is the sheer lengths you will go to in order to protect your family. It’s not even as if Korede and Ayoolah have a simple relationship to begin with. The novel explores their troubled past as a family unit, as well as the complexity of their current day relations, with it being evident that on the surface Korede is not particularly fond of her younger sister. Even so, when it comes down to it Korede is willing to help her sister instinctively, despite the grey areas between them. The use of this theme of family and loyalty makes you question your own world as a reader. What would you do in such a position? Could you cover up not just a crime, but multiple murders?

Even with her fierce loyalty, Korede is not ignorant of the truth. She begins to question the motives surrounding Ayoola’s actions, wondering how she has come three times to be in the same situation. She tells us that:

‘On their three-month anniversary, she stabbed him in the bathroom of his apartment. She didn’t meant to, of course. He was angry, screaming at her, his onion stained breath hot against her face. (But why was she carrying the knife?)’ (p. 7)

Korede wants to have faith in her sister and her version of events, but three times is surely more than a coincidence? She begins to worry about the small details, such as the fact that ‘she killed him on the first strike’, but then ‘stabbed him twice more’ (p. 8). She cannot ignore the truth of what has happened, yet Ayoola is still her younger sister, and is blood not thicker than water?

What complicates the reader’s feelings even further is the fact that Korede is a nurse. As someone from a healthcare background you would expect her to have compassion and morals, and whilst some of this is indeed true at times, we cannot ignore the clinical way in which she has dispatched of three bodies. Her moral stance is most definitely ambiguous, making for a much more complex character overall. I also found the strokes of dark humour within the book quite refreshing against the backdrop of murder. This is by no means an obvious humour, but instead a subtle one, giving us time to raise our lips in a smile whilst also understanding the gravity of the situation, For example, at one point when speaking of the latest victim, Korede states, ‘We take him to where we took the last one – over the bridge and into the water. At least he won’t be lonely’ (p. 4).

The one thing I did struggle with across the board in this novel was the depiction of Korede’s sister. Ayoola’s attitudes towards the deaths were great and I found her to be a very interesting character from that perspective. On the other hand, she more often than not came across as a stock character, with many tropes written into her to use as a plot device. Somehow every guy that Ayoola meets falls head over heels in love with her, unable to escape her beauty and charm. Likewise, the girls want to be her, secretly seething inside that they do not look the way that she does. It was all very clichéd and took away from the idea of this woman whose far from ordinary and is actually killing men. I would rather have had an engaging and refreshing villain as opposed to a stock one.

Ayoolah aside, the author was very skilled at capturing a sense of atmosphere and allowing the tension to continue to build as you realise something is waiting to happen. You almost feel as if you’re also about to be caught as you get swept away by the pacing of the book. This might be an incredibly short book, and even though it moves along with great speed, it never felt as though it needed to be brought down a gear or two. We still get enough time to examine our main characters and build up a relationship with them outside of this manic plot.

I also thought that this book is a brilliantly engaging opportunity to read more books that aren’t written by white British middle class men. The book is set in Nigeria and whilst its not specifically about this country or its culture, I still felt as though I took something away from it. I think what helps this is the way in which its almost done subconsciously, interwoven into the story so brilliantly that you never feel preached at or overwhelmed by any cultural differences. The dialect used is one such example of this, with the use of frequent colloquial words blended so smoothly into the narrative that you never really even  become aware any of differences to your own, which might have made it a difficult read.

I really enjoyed this short yet powerful book and I think it’s an excellent and refreshing look at crime fiction. Whilst I don’t think it’s completely perfect (but what is?), it was still incredibly well written and structured, and just really really entertaining to read! I flew through the book in two short sittings, and I’m sure most readers would as well.

This is an incredibly well conceived and well executed book. It packs a powerful punch despite its stature, capturing you in its richly dark plot and hidden truths between two sisters’.

Publisher: Atlantic

Rating: 4.5*/5*




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