Before his untimely death (it may or may not have been an accident), Ayoola and Korede’s father was a master of the dodgy deal, selling refurbished cars to a dealership as brand-new and building his smart new ranch house on the proceeds. He beats his daughters, tries to pimp them out to important friends and colleagues and brings home his mistress despite his wife also being there at the time. When she screams, he looks at her with indifference. “If you don’t shut up now, I will deal with you.” The girls’ mother reaches for the Ambien.
Braithwaite writes in a rat-a-tat style that forces the plot along at a clip. Short chapters headed “Bleach,” “Body,” “Scrubs,” “Heat,” “Questions” follow one another in a taut rhythm like that of a drumbeat. A lazier writer would have left it at that. But Braithwaite’s tale takes a darker turn when Ayoola tips her cap at the very man Korede herself is secretly in love with, the warmhearted Dr. Tade Otumu, who keeps a bowl of candy on his desk for his child patients and sings a lullaby to an inconsolable toddler recoiling from being given an injection. “Is there anything more beautiful than a man with a voice like an ocean?” Korede asks herself. The little girl “waddles towards him. When she is older, she will remember him as her first love.”
Although Tade feels affection and respect for his head nurse, he quickly forgets her when Ayoola crooks her little finger at him. For Korede’s sister, the doctor is just another man to play with. He sends her orchids. She sends him a text: “I. Really. Prefer. Roses.” “All he wants is a pretty face,” she tells Korede. “That’s all they ever want.” Despite this, Korede keeps looking after her sister, steering her away from social media because she should still be mourning her latest dead beau if she doesn’t want to raise suspicions about how he passed away.
To stop herself from going crazy, Korede confides in Muhtar Yautai, a patient who for months has been in Room 313. Whenever she feels low, Korede enters his room, lifts the chair from beside the table in the corner, sets it down a few inches from his bed and pours her heart out. “I came to talk to him about Ayoola,” she confesses. “But it is Tade whom I cannot seem to get out of my mind. I … I wish. …” Turning to the subject of Ayoola and the men she is killing, she says: “Femi makes three, you know. Three, and they label you a serial killer. … Somewhere, deep down, she must know, right?”
Muhtar was badly injured in a car accident. He’s been in the hospital for five months, and it helps that he is in a coma. But then he wakes up and begins to remember what Korede has told him. All of a sudden the story takes a different turn.
“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.