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A SICKNESS IN THE FAMILY
by Denise Mina and Antonio Fuso, illustrator
Vertigo Crime, October 2010
180 pages
$19.99
ISBN: 1401210813


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Denise Mina is not only the author of a number highly regarded crime novels (The Garnethill trilogy, and the two series that centre on Paddy Meehan and Alex Morrow), but has also written horror comics in the Hellblazer series. Here she undertakes her first graphic novel (another, an adaptation of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, is about to be published.)

The story involves the Usher family, resident not in a decaying mansion on a blasted heath, but in Glasgow. The Ushers, who have just sold the family business and thus have some ready cash, occupy the upper floors of a terraced house. The basement flat is occupied by a wife-battering Glaswegian and the object of his attentions, a Polish woman just out of the hospital emergency ward where his fists have sent her. It is Christmas. Upstairs the Ushers are eating their burnt Christmas pudding and listening to the battle raging below. Before long, the basement couple are dead, the result of a murder and suicide. On the wall is scrawled (I think in blood) the words "This Place."

This is not the grim finale, but only the beginning. Once the yellow tape is down from the front stairs, the Ushers purchase the lower flat and begin renovations. These proceed, as they tend to do, badly, leaving a large hole in the centre of the house. (There's a wonderful panel in which the builder, a lupine smile on his face, swears the work will be finished the next day and demands to be paid in full - we all know where that will lead.) Bad turns to worse and before you know it the Ushers, never a close and affectionate lot, are at each other's throats. Granny falls or is pushed down the drop and when she comes out of hospital, the family installs her in the basement, where only Sam, the adopted son, visits and where he comes to the conclusion that the house has been cursed by the dying words of a witch burnt on the site several hundred years ago. Perhaps opening the hole between the floors has let her evil out? Well, maybe.

Before it's all over, pretty much the entire family is dead, murdered one way or the other and by a hand I have a feeling you won't have figured out ahead of time. And even if you do, Mina works it all out with brilliant wit. It's all great twisted fun, with its nods to past horror fiction. Antonio Fuso's black and white illustrations, in the classic, DC comic-book style, all jagged angles and dramatic close-ups, perfectly capture the mood of the text, though a somewhat clearer physical distinction among some of the characters might have been helpful. And at a time of crime-novel bloat, this is a sterling demonstration of what a few (a very few) well-chosen words can do not only to tell a story, but to tell it with surprising psychological and social depth.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, October 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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