My Sister the Serial Killer: A short, sharp and sinister sister act, told with plenty of mordant humour
Fiction: My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite Atlantic, paperback, 226 pages, €18.20
'It takes of a whole lot longer to dispose of a body than dispose of a soul, especially if you don't want to leave any evidence of foul play." For Korede, having to help her 17-year-old sister Ayoola dispatch the rapidly decomposing body of one boyfriend once could be described as a misfortune. Three boyfriends later, and now in their thirties, the sisters are almost becoming good at deploying the gloves and bleach.
Her usefulness as an accessory may have something to do with the fact that Korede is a trained nurse. Beautiful, charming, reckless Ayoola cites self-defence in the case of each killing, and yet Korede can't help but notice that, amid these highly dramatic tangles, her sister always manages to escape with nary a bruise on her. In truth, the theory shifts slightly more towards that of a black widow spider; a species who mates with males, but then eats them soon after if she feels like it.
Sisterhood has long been a rich literary staple, and for good reason. It can be drawn out into a complex swamp of sibling rivalry, co-dependency, intimacy and protectiveness - and so it goes with Korede and Ayoola.
Their curious dynamic is finely attuned under Oyinkan Braithwaite's pen. Their differing levels of attractiveness have been apparent since school (to Korede, at least) and a rich backstory involving an abusive father gets revealed eventually. It often seems as though Korede is very much under the cosh here, but in no mean feat, Braithwaite has saved her character from blank, put-upon passivity.
That Korede goes to great lengths to hide her sister's crimes is inevitable, but the plot is enriched considerably by a love triangle: Tade is a colleague of Korede's whom she has loved from afar, and owing in part to his impeccable bedside manner, is perfect husband material. Alas, he soon sets his eyes on Ayoola, and vice versa, even if Ayoola has a habit of playing around with her potential suitors. Suffice to say that Korede doesn't relish the idea of consigning him to his inevitable grisly fate without a fight.
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.
Braithwaite's deadpan tone is delivered with economical language. Tonally, My Sister, The Serial Killer lands squarely on point, but with the odd clunky turn of phrase showing up, there's a niggling sense that the writer has yet to truly find her effortless, authentic voice.
Several elements, from the slasher to the romantic, collide by book's end, and not all of them entirely gracefully. Still, the staccato chapters and book's brevity help to shunt the action along nicely and keep the reader involved.
The book has reportedly been optioned by Working Title, the production company behind Love Actually and Notting Hill. In this set of hands, what a project that could turn out to be.