I don’t think anyone has tested the proverb, “blood is thicker than water,” as much as Ayoola does in Oyinkan Braithwite’s unsettling novel, My Sister, the Serial Killer. At the beginning of the novel, Ayoola calls our narrator (her older sister) to tell her that “it” has happened again and that she needs Korede’s help. “It” is murder and Ayoola has just killed someone for the third time. She is now officially a serial killer.
Korede is a long suffering sibling. When she was younger, she protected Ayoola from their father’s violent temper. Now, she’s stuck protecting Ayoola’s secrets from everyone. Given that Ayoola has now killed three men, one might think that hiding Ayoola’s secrets would be difficult. But it turns out that Lagos, Nigeria might be good hunting ground for a serial killer. It also helps that Ayoola is so beautiful and captivating (at first) that no one suspects her. It’s only when people get to know her that they realize that Ayoola is missing something vital: empathy.
Because we spend the novel sitting on Korede’s shoulder, we witness her struggles to clean up after her sister, literally and figuratively. We also witness her growing loneliness. This loneliness gets worse when the coworker Korede has a crush on meets Ayoola and the two start dating. Every time Korede tries to get her coworker to reconsider, it backfires spectacularly and painfully. It’s hard to watch, but utterly gripping because we spend every page of this book waiting for the hammer to fall.
I spent a lot of the novel mentally begging Korede to stop covering for her sister and allow the sociopath to face the consequences of her actions. Braithwaite, however, shows all of the reasons why Korede finds it impossible to do so. In other hands, My Sister, the Serial Killer might have been a black comedy. Instead, Braithwaite shows us how the habit of a life time, paired with Ayoola’s camouflage and the incompetence and greed of the Lagos police, make it impossible for Korede to just let Ayoola destroy herself. She is the best of sisters, even if it means that she might be damned too.