If that title doesn’t intrigue you, how about the first lines?

“Ayoola summons me with these words—Korede, I killed him.
I hoped I would never hear those words again.”

I don’t know that I intended to read this book in one sitting but after picking it up I couldn’t put it down. This might have been an ordinary cautionary tale of sibling rivalry were it not for the fact that one of the sisters is a sociopath; a murderer, a serious danger to the men her beauty attracts. Ayoola is a Venus fly trap and Korede, who loves her sister, is her fixer, her enabler. This delicious noirish nightmare thrills and shocks. My Sister the Serial Killer is original, deceptively light in tone and pure fun to read. I dare you not to enjoy the terrible things going on here.

Now to be fair, what do you do when your younger sister calls you for help because she just killed a man? Well, Korede fetches the sheets for the shroud and the cleaning fluids for the blood and drives to Ayoola’s aid. They wrap the body in the sheets and take it to Korede’s car, via the elevator. Femi, the victim, lived on the third floor. With the body right there in the lift Ayoola tries to hold the door open for a mother and baby, until Korede pushes her aside. When she asks Ayoola what she’s doing all she says is: “My bad.” Nothing seems to hit home with Ayoola. This is one of the many semi-farce vignettes that add to the enjoyment of the novel. Then the sisters return to the flat for the clean up. While Ayoola sits on the toilet hugging her knees tight, Korede mops up the mess. Femi is the third lover Ayoola has dispatched and that makes her a serial killer, although she keeps saying it’s not her fault. The first time it happened Korede had no problem believing her sister when she said she was attacked, that she was the victim of an assault. This time, like before, there are no defensive wounds, not a mark on Ayoola’s beautiful skin. With the body in the car boot and Femi’s flat clean as a whistle the girls leave, they head for the third bridge out of town, in the darkness on the other side of the river they leave the shroud in the water (he won’t be alone there!).

Korede is a nurse, she’s conscientious, diligent and compassionate, she’s also in love with Dr. Tade. She keeps the receptionists, the cleaners and the nurses in line but they talk about her behind her back. Korede desperately needs someone to talk to about Ayoola and she’s found the perfect person, Muhtar Yautai has been in a coma for five months following a car crash. Korede pours her heart out. #FemiDurandIsMissing has gone viral and it’s a job to keep Ayoola from posting her sadness alongside a picture of herself in a new dress on Snapchat. Normality appears to be returning when Ayoola walks into the hospital and from that moment on Dr. Tade is fixated on the unnaturally beautiful younger sister of his colleague. Can Korede save Tade? Will the bond between sisters survive the strain? Korede’s nightmares are of Femi, for Ayoola it’s the past, move on. When it comes to Ayoola there are no signs that the leopard will ever change her spots. There is so much more trouble ahead.

Poor Korede is like a Cassandra, everything she says is destined to be ignored, her motives assumed to be jealousy of Ayoola. Everyone wants to shoot the messenger! She is called a bad older sister, no kind of role model for the sweet, gorgeous Ayoola. Naturally people assume that anyone as beautiful as Ayoola must be a good person, she must have a good heart. They don’t know that she is rarely very far from the knife, her father’s knife, that has already taken three lives. How is Korede supposed to protect her sister and protect the male population of Nigeria from her at the same time? Tade isn’t the only fly flirting with this spider. You can’t help but feel sorry for Korede but to be honest there is also a lot of humour in the way she tries to maintain a semblance of normality in a totally screwed up world. The black comedy plays on the attitudes and cultural norms of society, it’s wicked and it’s delectable.

The power of the story is all the more evident for the light storytelling. The clever way complex and dark tones are sugar coated until you realise just how depraved the story is, is masterful. My Sister… has a wonderful cast of characters; from an overbearing, alcoholic creep of a father to the tragically unsophisticated men led by the brain downstairs not the one God gave them for thinking with. The kind of men who don’t understand inner beauty, strength, intelligence matter more than looks, this is a fable for them. The setting and cast give an authenticity to the tale and the contrast between the normal everyday and the deviant works brilliantly. Korede was about to eat dinner when Ayoola rings her to say she has killed again. The back biting and office politics at the hospital, all behind Korede’s back, rings so true.

Braithwaite’s tale of sibling rivalry, of misinterpreting outer beauty for inner beauty is poignant and truthful. The fact that the beauty is a serial killer is a delicious and delightful twist. My Sister... says a lot about the nature of the male fascination with beauty and youth but also about how male obsessions can screw up the future of the young. Ayoola is deeply damaged, maybe she was always destined to be broken but life experience in the guise of her father added to her burden. It’s part of the reason Korede is so protective.

There is a lot of really interesting fiction coming out of Nigeria at the moment. This novel is a real treat, it has an African feel to it but also has its finger on the pulse of world crime fiction. My Sister the Serial Killer will take you an afternoon to read, it’s playful and entertaining but it has a serious point. Go for it.

Paul Burke 5/4

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Atlantic Books 9781786495976 hbk Jan 2019