First Lines Wednesday – My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Oyinkan Braithwaite, My Sister, the Serial Killer (Atlantic Books: 2018, 9781786495976)

“WORDS

Ayoola summons me with these words – Korede, I killed him. I had hoped I would never hear those words again.

BLEACH

I bet you didn’t know that bleach masks the smell of blood. Most people use bleach indiscriminately, assuming it is a catchall product, never taking the time to read the list of ingredients on the back, never taking the time to rerun to the recently wiped surface to take a closer look. Bleach will disinfect, but it’s not great for cleaning residue, so I use it only after I have first scrubbed the bathroom of all traces of life, and death.”

Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer is set in Lagos and follows Korede, Ayoola’s older, plainer sister who relunctantly cleans the crime scenes of Ayoola’s kills. Ayoola only offs the men she is involved with – in self-defence, or maybe not; who can tell? But this book is not really about murder. It explores the ambivalent relationship between the two sisters and Korede’s dilemma between continuing to enable her femme fatale sister, and saving a co-worker she likes but that has eyes for Ayoola alone. Korede’s qualms are fairly dispassionate, as her energy is more focused on the practicalities of keeping the sisters’ secret while navigating her job as a nurse and memories of even messier past family events.

The elements that make this a unique and entertaining debut are the tone and pace that are captured in the first lines of the novel. Korede talks to us about the suitability of bleach as a crime scene cleaning agent as casually as if she were chatting about a baking recipe. Braithwaite keeps up this pairing of moments of high drama with Korede’s cool and pragmatic approach throughout the book, and the short chapters (the “Words” section is a one-page chapter) keep it moving with the same urgency and practicality that each sister employs in their roles as killer, and jilted but loyal enabler.

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