Oyinkan Braithwaite’s recent thriller My Sister, the Serial Killer has been all over my social media feeds for months, and seeing it on the Tournament of Books longlist (and now shortlist) made me finally look into its premise and put an immediate library hold on the title. After a bit of a wait, I accidentally read most of the book the same afternoon that my hold came up at the library. It was that addicting.
About the book: Korede and Ayoola are sisters living in Lagos, one a prominent nurse, the other immensely beautiful. They love and loathe each other as any sisters do- but they also hide murders. Three times, Korede has come to Ayoola’s rescue as her beautiful sister stands over a dead man with a bloody knife in her hand, and Korede has been fiercely loyal to her younger sister in the wake of these dramatic events. Korede is not sure what Ayoola’s boyfriends have done to warrant such fates, but she does not doubt her sister… Until Ayoola sets her sights on the doctor that Korede likes from work, and Korede is forced to choose whose well-being she cares more about protecting- and what will it will mean for Korede if anything happens to either of them.
“He blinks at me, as though seeing me for the first time. ‘You’re worse than she is.’ “
The book opens on the death of Ayoola’s third victim. Korede explains the cleanup process, which involves a lot more than the physical removal of the body and blood; Ayoola shows no remorse, and must be coached on how to handle police interviews and which posts are appropriate on social media while her boyfriend is supposedly missing. From there, the story moves away from the gore and toward the rationale that enables Korede to live with her sister’s (and her own) actions. Thriller fans looking for scares and suspense should look elsewhere. This is not an action-packed psychological ride aiming to shock through plot twists and seemingly ordinary characters who find themselves in frightening situations. But if you’re here for fast-paced dark humor stemming from hilarious/horrifying irony, My Sister, the Serial Killer is probably the book for you.
” ‘You’re not the only one suffering, you know. You act like you are carrying this big thing all by yourself, but I worry too.’ ‘Do you? Because the other day you were singing ‘I believe I Can Fly.” Ayoola shrugs. ‘It’s a good song.’ “
Though Korede narrates the entire novel, both sisters (and the incredible push-and-pull dynamic between them) stay front and center throughout the novel. Ayoola remains slightly more mysterious if only because the reader has learned by the end of the story that Korede’s impressions of her sister are biased– sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. These are strong women who do horrendous things, but Korede’s rationale paves a clear path from choice to choice until it seems things could never have gone any other way. It’s impossible and amusing and so compelling.
The only thing that could’ve made this book better for me is something to take away from the experience other than a simple good time. None of the premise strikes me as very plausible (which is part of what made it so fun), but I’m afraid my inability to place any part of the story in the real world will also prevent the story from sticking in my mind. Perhaps if the characters’ motives had been explored a bit more deeply or the consequences of their actions dealt with a heavier hand, these women and their murders might have made a more lasting impression. Entertainment value is high, and Braithwaite certainly has things to say, but I wouldn’t have minded her speaking them a bit louder.
“For some reason I cannot imagine her resorting to stabbing if that particular knife were not in her hand; almost as if it were the knife and not her that was doing the killing. But then, is that so hard to believe? Who is to say that an object does not come with its own agenda? Or that the collective agenda of its previous owners does not direct its purpose still?”
My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I may bump this down to 4 in time if the story doesn’t stay with me as well as I hope it will, but I had an unbelievably good time reading this short novel. It absolutely flew by. Maybe I’m looking for the wrong sorts of thrillers lately, because My Sister, the Serial Killer impressed me so much more than anything else from that genre has in the last year.
- Though a bit more traditional as far as thrills go, Riley Sager’s Final Girls is a great read for anyone who likes a bit of a laugh with their gore and suspense. This novel is a spoof on the slasher genre, providing thrills by upsetting the reader’s expectations of old horror films and mainstream thriller/mysteries. In this book, the sole survivor of a killing spree is facing a second attack years later that will lead her to question the “facts” from the first event.
What’s the last book you read that didn’t quite seem to fit the genre it’s marketed in? Was it a good surprise, or a bad one?
The Literary Elephant