Postal Reading group
July 2020
Notes on the book My sister, the serial killer by Okinkan Braithwaite

Oyinkan Braithwaite’s novel My sister, the serial killer would, at first glance, appear to be crime fiction with a difference: when you know who the murderer is, and furthermore, when you’re related to them! Once I started reading this, however, it quickly became apparent that this is not the case, and that the aspect of crime is almost coincidental to the story.

The basic idea is that Korede has just received nother telephone call from her sister, Ayoola, of a rather predicatable nature. Ayoola has just killed another boyfriend, and it is Korede’s job to clean up and dispose of the body. Korede has perviously put up with this on the basis that “family comes first”. However, when Ayoola starts dating a doctor in the hospital where Korede works it presents a rather interesting dilemma.

From the begining this book is a quick read, only just over 200 pages, and split into very short ‘episodes’, which further help readability. This comes at the expense on the narrative, however. Although the basis of the plot is good, I don’t believe that the structure of the book and the lack of continuous narrative helps with the development of the plot. Similarly, the dilemma facing Korede should make for an interesting book, but in reality it receives comparatively little coverage. Although she does try to make some people, particularly the doctor, aware of what her sister is capable of, she is easily frustrated at every attempt and gives up perhaps a little too easily.

This book is also a very light read, leaving apart the macabre aspect of having a serial killer in your family. The two main characters are also well drawn; most readers will probably be able to appreciate the common pairing of the sensible older sister, and attractive younger sister. The book is also surprisingly humorous, not in a “laugh out loud” way, but more in the style of the unusual plot and quirky events. The style of the humour was not always to my taste, but I can nevertheless understand that some readers will appreciate this. Conversely, anyone looking for the intricate plot and suspense of a good psychological thriller, or even an exploration of Korede’s dilemma, will be disappointed by this book.

Leaving aside the serial killer plot, which I think is really a way of gaining the reader’s attention, this is a novel about the two sisters and their relationship. In that regard the book has succeeded well. As mentioned above, these two characters seem entirely realistic. Its amazing what the younger, good looking, sister can get away with, and it is similarly amazing what Korede will put up with. Every time she even tries to hint at her younger sister’s dark secret, Ayoola has an answer ready, meaning that it is Korede who looks like the villain. I’m not sure that I would put up with it, or display the same degree of fidelity over and over again. However, I assume that the strong bond between the two sisters is in part due to their abusive father, and of course, there are cultural differences too.

There are some other aspects of the plot which strike me as being either slightly unbelievable, very fortunate, or just plain convenient. First among these must be the remarkable lack of curiosity when Ayoola has just dispatched her latest victim. Admittedly, they did have to act quickly to prevent a resident from entering the lift while they were carrying the body, but still they must have been very lucky. Secondly, the lack of interest from the police and the victim’s family is not entirely believable, and the one time that Korede is stopped by the police it is apparently only for a minor traffic offence and easily settled by a bribe. Considering that Ayoola had killed three times, the families for the victims must have been remarkably incurious, especially as she hadn’t been shy on social media. Beyond this, there’s the small matter of getting out of Dubai while a potential suitor lies dead with food poisoning; perhaps she really didn’t kill that one, perhaps poison is not her style!

This leaves the main question: “Did Ayoola kill the three victims, or do you believe that it was ‘self-defence’?” While the book seems to ignore this obvious question, and apparently everyone seems to take Ayoola’s word, I’m still favouring the murder hypothesis. I’m reminded of the rule which applies in many other circumstances too: “Once is an accident, twice is carelessness and three times is systematic.” If they were all killed in self-defence then her choice in men must have been particularly unfortunate.

In summary, this book is a quick easy read, and one which should not be taken too seriously. If you enjoy the two sisters and their family bond, while appeciating the quirky humour, then you’ll probably enjoy this book. On the other hand, this book is not intended to be serious crime fiction. Ultimately, while this may not have been to my taste, I can appreciate why others will have enjoyed it. Thank you for the opportunity to try something completely different!

Comments by Nicholas Cutler