My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Blood might be thicker than water, but it’s also a lot more difficult to scrub out of carpets. Just ask Korede, a hardworking Nigerian nurse. By day, she is a well-respected, dedicated carer. At night she is on standby as an enabler for her wrecking ball of a little sister, Ayoola, who has a habit of killing her boyfriends.

Ayoola stabs them and Korede bags them, and though Ayoola pleads self-defense, Korede realizes that she has become a serial killer’s one woman cleanup crew. Until Ayoola sets her sight on Korede’s dream man, Tade.

The conflict is at one point explicitly focused on Korede’s Choice between her murderous sister and the object of her unrequited affection. The premise works as long as you don’t overthink it. Nigeria has the death penalty, but at no point is Korede seriously worried that her sister might hang. Instead, she frets about the prospect of losing hunky Doctor Tade to her sister’s sharp knife blade. Leaving aside considerations of logistics and logic, since we are reading a satirical(ish) tale, not a full fledged psychological thriller, the flimsy characterization of both Ayoola and Tade put the story under strain.

To her credit, Braithwaite does solve the Tade side of the equation by stripping him of his Mr. Perfect aura by the time Korede takes a side. This is more than many authors manage once they’ve set their hearts on convincing us that the boring, self-involved, hunky Doc types of this world are irresistible. Unfortunately, Ayoola doesn’t come across as any more well-rounded of a character. This is a far bigger issue given that her relationship with Korede is what anchors the book.

For all the attention she gets for her overwhelming physical beauty, Ayoola has a serious charisma deficit. She is simply put too dull of a psychopath and, as we rush through the plot without getting any insight into when exactly she started killing and what triggers it, she remains a beautiful blank slate throughout. The fact that she is often infantilized does not help. It is a missed opportunity to explore in more depth the themes of female agency, rage and violence the story only touches on very lightly.

Where Braithwaite does show more ambition is the flashbacks to the girls’ family life. There is a marked improvement as we get to see how Korede began her lifelong role as her sister’s keeper and how the two girls support each other to survive their father’s violence. You get the feeling this is the book that could emerge from a couple of rewrites. The good news is My Sister, the Serial Killer has been optioned for screen, a medium that has a lot of potential to bring out the story’s strengths. In the hands of a charismatic actress, Ayoola’s blankness might yet become chilling and cool. This might not be a whodunnit, but it is a very brisk, often fun read. I support publishing novellas under the radar with the help of generous formatting. I am even happier to have easy access to books set in a global metropolis outside of Europe or the US, so fingers crossed for the cinematic version and the advent of a Lagos noir trend. If the cover of this book is any indication, it’s going to be a stunner.

What’s interesting to note among the hype for this novella is that the audiobook version is getting great reviews, even from readers who had issues with the choppy plot and did not quite buy into the story on the written page. Perhaps My Sister, the Serial Killer was destined to be seen or heard rather

Sofia Fara is a book blogger and member of The Books Without Borders Bookclub

240 pages and published by Double Day

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My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

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