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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


My Sister, the Serial Killer

Oyinkan Braithwaite

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To purchase My Sister, the Serial Killer

Title: My Sister, the Serial Killer
Author: Oyinkan Braithwaite
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017; rev. 2018
Length: 223 pages
Availability: My Sister, the Serial Killer - US
My Sister, the Serial Killer - UK
My Sister, the Serial Killer - Canada
Ma sœur, serial killeuse - France
  • Originally published in Nigeria in 2017 as Thicker than Water, and then, in revised form in 2018 internationally as My Sister, the Serial Killer

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Our Assessment:

B+ : basic but effective

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 4/1/2019 Nilanjana Roy
The Guardian B 4/1/2019 Carrie O'Grady
Irish Times B+ 29/12/2018 Sarah Gilmartin
The NY Times Book Rev. A 13/1/2019 Fiammetta Rocco
Time . 10/12/2018 Nicholas Mancusi
The Washington Post . 19/11/2018 Jon Michaud

  From the Reviews:
  • "More than the actual fact of Ayoola’s black widow side, Braithwaite grips you with her razor-sharp understanding of the twisted knot of family legacies and blood ties. (...) Braithwaite deftly ducks simplistic psychological analyses. (...) Strictly as a crime thriller, My Sister, The Serial Killer doesn’t hold up to a close first reading. (...) But the real darkness and tension in My Sister, The Serial Killer, comes from the dance within the family, the love-hate, protector-betrayer relationship between these two siblings." - Nilanjana Roy, Financial Times

  • "This is no crime thriller, however. Braithwaite is most interested in the relationship between the sisters, who are close despite their opposing natures (.....) The real joy lies in the characters: Ayoola is a delight (.....) 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." - Carrie O'Grady, The Guardian

  • "A darkly comic novel that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s an easy read, and a fitting vehicle for anyone wishing to indulge in murderous fantasies over the festive period. There is little in the way of psychological depth in My Sister, The Serial Killer, but its deadpan tone and well-paced story make up for the shortcomings. (...) 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." - Sarah Gilmartin, Irish Times

  • "My Sister, the Serial Killer is less a murder mystery -- it devotes little attention to why Ayoola is killing her boyfriends, other than that she seems to find it remarkably easy to do thanks to a sharp knife she stole from her father -- and more a study in the strange complexity of sibling bonds. (...) Braithwaite writes in a rat-a-tat style that forces the plot along at a clip. (...) My Sister, the Serial Killer is a bombshell of a book -- sharp, explosive, hilarious. With a deadly aim, Braithwaite lobs jokes, japes and screwball comedy at the reader. Only after you turn the last page do you realize that, as with many brilliant comic writers before her, laughter for Braithwaite is as good for covering up pain as bleach is for masking the smell of blood." - Fiammetta Rocco, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Braithwaite, a poet, writer and editor who lives and works in Nigeria, wields a colloquial idiom and quick wit with aplomb, crafting a vibrant world in which sisterly bonds and obligations run up against morality. (...) Braithwaite has updated these downright Dostoyevskian ideas for the social-media set, and the interrogation of how technology intersects with their lives only adds to the novel’s campy appeal." - Nicholas Mancusi, Time

  • "The book is indeed about a serial killer and her sibling, but it is not at all the pulpy slasher story you might expect. Instead, it is a playful yet affecting examination of sibling rivalry, the legacy of abuse and the shallow sexism of Nigeria’s patriarchal society. (...) In its darkly comic depiction of two women teaming up against the powerful, abusive men in their lives, My Sister, the Serial Killer feels like an ideal book for the present moment." - Jon Michaud, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       My Sister, the Serial Killer is narrated by Korede -- and her younger and more attractive sister, Ayoola, does indeed have boyfriend-issues that are so extreme that she can be labeled a serial killer (Korede Googled it: "There it was: three or more murders... serial killer").
       The novel is presented in short chapters, many only a page or two in length, with stark, generally one-word titles -- beginning with 'Words' and 'Bleach' -- and the very brief opening chapter nicely sets the mood and circumstances:

     Ayoola summons me with these words -- Korede, I killed him.
     I had hoped I would never hear those words again.
       The first chapters details this particular murder-aftermath -- the clean-up and disposal job. The victim's name is Femi, and Ayoola tells her sister a garbled story of trying to protect herself: "She didn't mean to kill him", she claims -- but the circumstances suggest that isn't entirely convincing. As Korede wonders (parenthetically): "But why was she carrying the knife ?" And, of course, there's also the fact that it's the third time something like this has happened .....
       Korede, a hospital nurse, comes when called, and does what she can to help her sister out of each mess. Here, too, she helps dispose of the body -- "We take him to where we took the last one" -- and scrubs away the traces of the crime.
       The sisters have very different characters and temperaments, with Korede a dutiful and professional caregiver, while Ayoola styles herself as fashion designer and trend-setter, constantly active on social media. Korede doesn't have a boyfriend -- just a crush on a doctor at her hospital, Tade Otumu -- while Ayoola, casual about everything, goes through them ... well, quicker than she should.
       The sisters were clearly marked by a childhood under a domineering father, with Korede filling in, bit by bit, some of the family background. It was not pleasant:
     "No, sir." We didn't call him Daddy. We never had. He was not a daddy, and least not in the way the word "daddy" denotes. One could hardly consider him a father. He was the law in our home.
       The father was often physically violent and a womanizer; he died ten years earlier -- and there's a suggestion that the daughters were involved in that. There's also that knife he was so proud of -- the knife that Ayoola appropriated, and now continues to put to use .....
       Korede and her sister are close, and they are family, but Korede can't help but be bothered by some of the differences: "we share the same mouth, the same eyes -- but Ayoola looks like a Bratz doll and I resemble a voodoo figurine", and the carefree Ayoola seems to be able to take -- and get -- everything, including men, much more easily And Korede is disturbed to note also that Ayoola seems to be taking after their father in some respects:
More and more, she reminds me of him. He could do a bad thing and behave like a model citizen right after. As though the bad thing had never happened.
       Still, as the older sister, Korede has always felt -- and been expected to be -- responsible for Ayoola, and it's something that remains deeply ingrained in her: as the title of the first version of this novel has it, blood, even when it's spilled by her sister, is Thicker than Water.
       The one outlet Korede has is a patient at the hospital, Muhtar Yautai. He's been in a coma for five month, and without anyone else to talk to about her feelings and her sister she keeps him company and unburdens her soul and conscience.
       There's considerably more to unburden when the doctor she has a crush on eyes Ayoola, and wants to go out with her. Korede knows what happens to men who go out with her sister ..... She struggles to keep work and domestic life separate, but self-centered Ayoola won't play along. And for Ayoola Tade is, for better and worse, just another man -- meaning also that when a married sugar-daddy comes in the picture, she has no problem prioritizing him for a while. But, throughout, old killing habits die hard ......
       Shifting quickly back and forth between scenes, Braithwaite nicely keeps the tension at a pretty high level throughout. There's repeatedly the danger of discovery and exposure, from when the sisters try to dispose of Femi's body to some bloodied evidence being found after all to Korede's car being taken by the police for closer inspection. And there are Korede's conflicted feelings -- for Tade, who she wants for herself and instead crushingly sees falling for her sister, as well as about her sister's dangerous killing-habit --, leaving open the question of whether any of this will finally push her over the edge and turn her against her sister. And then there's long-comatose Muhtar to whom she confessed everything, waking up .....
       It's the uneasy relationship between the two sisters -- so different and yet with those fundamental bonds, of blood and of their shared suffering under their father's tyranny -- that is at the heart of the book, and which Braithwaite handles particularly well. Ayoola is and remains an enigma to Korede, yet deep down the bond the between the two remains so strong that she is willing to do whatever she must to support her sister. Since the story begins with this at its most extreme, readers almost forget how absurd the premise is, and over the course of the novel Braithwaite peppers in just enough to maintain that necessary bit of plausibility. Cleverly, Braithwaite avoids going into too much detail about the previous crimes, and while My Sister, the Serial Killer couldn't withstand much closer scrutiny -- despite a very ineffectual police-force, it's hard to imagine professional incompetence could be sustained for the length of time necessary here for Ayoola really to get away with as much as she does -- readers willingly suspend most of their disbelief.
       The quick bursts of chapters, and the shifts in scene and focus, work well throughout. Occasionally, Braithwaite hints at greater depths, such as with the family history with the father, but she's wise to leave it mostly up to the reader's imagination; the sketchy -- in every sense -- presentation is ideal here, and works very well. Braithwaite's tone for Korede is very good too: she doesn't feel too sorry for herself, and her actions seem mostly plausible. With quite a bit of action crammed into a very short novel, the very fast-paced My Sister, the Serial Killer keeps moving right along too.
       Looked and picked at too closely, My Sister, the Serial Killer would quickly fall apart, but written with stylish aplomb it is eminently readable and good creepy fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 March 2019

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My Sister, the Serial Killer: Reviews (*: review of earlier version, Thicker than Water): Oyinkan Braithwaite: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Author Oyinkan Braithwaite lives in Nigeria.

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© 2019 the complete review

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