Written in the propulsive present tense, with a refreshing economy and very short chapters – some only a brisk page in length – Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut novel is a joyous stab against the patriarchy, as well as a suspenseful thriller. The novel’s first-person narrator, Korede, is at pains to describe the moral and physical gulf that separates her from her sister. Living in Lagos with Ayoola and their widowed mother, Korede is conscientious, loyal, clever and works as a nurse at a local hospital. There she is unrequitedly in love with a dashing doctor, Tade. Ayoola, by contrast, is indolent, mendacious, and stunningly pretty
My Sister, the Serial Killer is the blackest of black comedies, narrated by the long-suffering Korede in brief, matter-of-fact flashes. According to Ayoola, she killed the man in self-defence when he turned violent. Korede wants to believe this, although it’s suspiciously like the previous time... Oyinkan Braithwaite, a fiendishly talented young Nigerian writer, tells her ghastly story with superb wit and assurance.
...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... 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...
So far, so macabre, but debut novelist Braithwaite writes of her beguiling serial killer with a lightness of touch, not to mention a richly dark humour, that has greatly bolstered the crime genre of late. What initially reads as a sort of detachment on Korede's part soon becomes central to Braithwaite's deadpan, sardonic tone. Modern-day Lagos similarly leaps from the page, as does Nigeria's social and gender politics. In a chapter entitled 'Traffic', Korede is stopped by a traffic official, "looking for his next hapless victim". It's a tense standoff, made all the more suspenseful by a car boot recently cleaned and unbloodied with ammonia. The encounter sees Korede forced to palm the officer off with 5,000 naira, and serves as a reminder early on in the book that, for women in today's Nigerian society, charm will sometimes only get you so far.
My Sister, The Serial Killer is like a stiletto slipped between the ribs and through the left ventricle of the heart — precise, sure of its aim, and deadly in its effect. “Ayoola summons me with these words — Korede, I killed him. I had hoped I would never hear those words again.” Nigerian novelist Oyinkan Braithwaite’s glittering and funny crime fiction debut set in Lagos is a quick, slick read, and already a massive bestseller. It also has more than a touch of old dark fable hovering behind the straightforward plot revealed by the title.
...the book has so much going on that it becomes difficult to tell how the various storylines are intertwining. It all adds up to a distinctive but uneasy mix of morbid humour, love story, slashfest, family saga and grave meditation on how abusive behaviour is passed down through the generations. The real joy lies in the characters: Ayoola is a delight, waltzing through Lagos with supreme self-confidence... Korede, too, is complex and intriguing. The pair of them outshine their story, which ultimately tries to do too much and so never quite delivers on the promise of its audacious conceit.
The trick this novel pulls off, however, is that these issues with language don’t halt the flow of the narrative or prevent enjoyment of the book. Korede’s sardonic voice keeps the momentum going, in a way that recalls the offbeat humour of Gail Honeyman’s bestseller Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Braithwaite uses a similarly detached comic voice in her debut to comment on modern Nigerian society. A graduate of creative writing and law from Kingston University, she’s worked as an assistant editor at Kachifo and has been shortlisted as a spoken word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam.
My Sister, The Serial Killer is a high-tension, hideously comedic work of literary horror fiction, a memorable debut from Nigerian writer Oyinkan Braithwaite. Korede’s role as a terse and smart narrator who also happens to lack self-awareness creates a fascinating dual experience for the reader, one that allows Braithwaite to deliver scathing social commentary in scenes her protagonist coasts past without comment or is herself at fault in. The mundane realism of the text—social media, crooked traffic cops, the dichotomy of being wealthy enough for a house maid but not enough to avoid working—makes the ethical questions of murder, consequences, and justification for protecting a family member that much sharper.
The chapters are brisk — a page or two long, with titles like “Bleach,” “Body,” “Stain.” The narration is clean and efficient; the characters lightly sketched. Psychologizing is kept to a minimum. There are a few tiresome genre tropes — an annoying reliance on ellipses to convey mood, and subtext that comes emblazoned in neon. (“I head to the supply cabinet and grab a set of wipes. If only I could wipe away all our memories with it.”) But this book is, above all, built to move, to hurtle forward — and it does so, dizzyingly.
With My Sister, The Serial Killer, debut novelist Oyinkan Braithwaite has crafted a refreshingly original story, evocative of the best psychological thrillers. Set in Lagos, the novel is also at home in the thriving noir genre within Nigeria’s diverse contemporary literary movement—magnificently showcased in this year’s Lagos Noir anthology edited by Chris Abani...Following in the vein of other unlikable, female protagonists of psychological thrillers, such as Amy Dunne in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl—herself modeled on the delightfully villainous women of cinema’s noir past—Braithwaite’s curvaceous, dreadlocked Ayoola of Lagos noir is in gleeful conversation with Dashiell Hammett’s bloody, blond femme fatales of the Golden Era of Hollywood. My Sister, The Serial Killer is a smart thriller that reckons with age-old questions of family, loyalty, and desire.