My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite is a 2018 Doubleday Books publication; Booker Prize Nominee for Longlist (2019), Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller (2018), Women’s Prize for Fiction Nominee (2019), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Mystery & Thriller and for Debut Novel (2019), The Rooster — The Morning News Tournament of Books (2019)
That provocative title and amazing cover art certainly piques one’s curiosity. Noticing all the positive reactions the book received, I just had to see for myself if it was worth all the kudos. For the first few pages, I found it okay and it was then that it started becoming intriguing. The hype around this book was 100% justified. This is a masterclass in tension, creating it, relaxing it a little and then pulling it tight again. This clever novel revolves around two sisters who seemingly couldn’t be more different, but who are never-the-less bound by blood and fate.
Ayoola, is the younger sister who’s the serial killer in this case, and Koredo is the elder one who, is a nurse by profession but does all the cleaning and everything after the killings. Though she thinks of going to the police and tell them everything, the thought of her sister stops her. She loves her and believes in the fact ‘family comes first’ – sibling love!
Korede is precise, meticulous, hardworking, but plain looking. The relevance of that latter bit is that her sister, Ayoola, is stupid beautiful (i.e. the kind of pretty that turns people into blithering idiots in her presence), is a little flighty, and is a serial killer. While Korede is too smart to fall for Ayoola’s self-defense explanations for deceased boyfriends completely, Korede never-the-less assists Ayoola with disposing of bodies while trying to let Ayoola’s explanations soothe her conscience. But while Korede is morally conflicted and guilt-ridden, the blood bond is such that her stance is never in question. That is until a handsome young doctor that Korede has a crush on and a friendship with becomes infatuated with Ayoola. This development sets up the ultimate test of the sisters’ bond.
Braithwaite does a great job of peeling away the layers of the characters. The beautiful sister / serial killer is only the most obvious example of the risk of taking people at skin depth. We learn that other characters aren’t as they appear when we can see them more fully. And as the morality tale is playing out, we are offered a lesson in how beauty (as with any other envied trait) can be as much of a curse as it is a blessing.
I admire the way that this author walked the tightrope of satire, keeping the story from slipping into genre or farce. At no point does the reader feel comfortable or vindicated by the murders. In fact, we are disturbed – the victims are intelligent, kind, talented, nothing like a “Dexter” approved prey. But at the same time, Braithwaite’s killer embodies a woman who is completely empowered. The opposite of victim. And that is something quite fascinating to see.
An excellent debut by Nigerian author Oyinkan Braithwaite. Sharp, shocking, intelligent, and a definite page-turner.
My rating : 4/5