Book review: My Sister, The Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Oyinkan Braithwaite
Oyinkan Braithwaite
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There is no mystery here about who our murderer is – it says it right there in the title – and on turning the first page we’re taken straight to the aftermath of the latest death, with not even a paragraph of preamble: “Ayoola summons me with these words – Korede, I killed him.” So if there is no mystery to unravel, why are we here?

Mostly we are here to see the lives of the sisters and those around them in the oppressive heat of Lagos. Ayoola is the younger of the two, impossibly pretty, who acts as if the world revolves around her – which it more or less does, thanks to Korede, the elder, plainer sister; a nurse who is always tidying up after her sibling in one way or another. But when Ayoola stops by to visit Korede at work and meets Tade, the doctor Korede is secretly in love with, things start to shift and fracture. Korede does not want to dispose of Tade’s body in the lagoon with the other people Ayoola has killed, nor does she want to use her cleaning skills to bleach away any trace of his blood if Ayoola decides to use their father’s knife once more. But Tade falls head over heels for Ayoola’s beauty, and Korede can do nothing to keep them apart.

Korede, frustrated and lonely, talks to a coma patient at the hospital, telling him all her woes, safe in the knowledge that he has no idea she is there, and that his family is likely to switch off his life support machine in the not too distant future. He’s the perfect therapist in this blackly comic world of oddball characters, where things get inevitably messier and more complex as the sisters’ lies mount up. In one respect, it’s classic noir: actions have consequences that are inevitable – but the ending is worlds away from that bleak style, and the pitch-black humour, coupled with the sweltering heat of Lagos, gives a very different feel.

My Sister, The Serial Killer is a physically slight novel, at just over 200 pages, but there’s plenty to keep your attention. It makes serious points about family relationships and responsibilities, and about how the actions of one generation affect the next. And Oyinkan Braithwaite deftly uses a shifting timeline, moving between the present, the sisters’ childhood and points in between, to add interest and keep us guessing.

I felt the ending came rather abruptly, though it’s sharply done, and some areas of the plot could have been fleshed out without slowing the pace. On the whole, though, this is an assured debut and that dark humour will stay with you long after you’ve put down the book – plus, a virtual visit to sunny, sweltering Lagos is just the thing to counter the drab greys of a Scottish January. - Louise Fairbairn

My Sister, The Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite, Atlantic Books, £12.99