BOOK REVIEW – A Sickness In The Family (Graphic Novel)

By Marty Mulrooney


A Sickness In The Family is the debut graphic novel of award-winning author Denise Mina. One of the leading figures in Scotland’s ‘Tartan Noir’ genre of crime fiction, she made her comics debut with a 13-issue run of Hellblazer in 2010. Here, she collaborates with artist Antonio Fuso, who has drawn such comics as Fear Agent and GI Joe: Cobra, to tell a deliciously dark tale of betrayal, deceit and murder…

On the surface, the Ushers are like any other normal family. As we first meet them, they are gathered around the dinner table. The children squabble over their inheritance money whilst drunken father Ted stands to give an impromptu speech, the pudding overcooked and burnt… for many readers, a Christmas perhaps far too close for comfort. Later, when adopted son Sam goes to check on the abused woman who lives in the flat downstairs, he discovers a scene of such violence that it causes a ‘massive tectonic shift’ within him. Suddenly, anything is possible.

The opening chapter, entitled ‘Merry Fucking Christmas’, sets the tone perfectly. The entire story is narrated by Sam from some undisclosed point in the future, his comments sharp and biting as events unfold. Denise Mina’s pedigree within the crime genre adds much to the book’s writing style, which is a cut above many other graphic novels of its type. Every single character is extensively defined and humanised. Antonio Fuso’s artwork compliments the narrative perfectly, his black-and-white panels making extensive use of silhouettes, shadows and darkness to convey a world of bleak despair.

Parents Teddy and Biddy, along with Grandma Martha and children Amy, William and Sam, are all put in danger when they buy the flat downstairs and make a hole in the floor to build a staircase. Suddenly, they start dying one by one in highly suspicious circumstances. As the possible motives of each family member are brought to the surface, tensions rise and relationships begin to strain. An ongoing affair, a hidden drug addiction, a secret will; each revelation thickens the ongoing mystery and unearths fresh dirt. Sam’s online research even suggests that the house could be haunted…

The reason A Sickness In The Family works so well is that, despite being full of red herrings and false leads, the final reveal is – no pun intended – an absolute killer. Every clue still makes sense by the end of the book and most readers will never work out what is actually going on before they reach the final pages. The only issue I had with the overall narrative was the sometimes unrealistic actions of the police, who suspect foul play but do relatively little to stop the murders before it is too late.

A Sickness In The Family will appeal mostly to readers who enjoy dark, adult murder mysteries. The predominating emotion conveyed is one of despair, and for that reason I cannot recommend this graphic novel to the faint-hearted or easily offended. Each character is undeniably twisted and there are practically no moments of light relief. Regardless, the ending is superb and the Usher family’s continuous bad luck remains sickly captivating. You will never look at family life in quite the same way again…

8 OUT OF 10


Filed under Books

2 responses to “BOOK REVIEW – A Sickness In The Family (Graphic Novel)

  1. I do not know your personal taste or anything, but… ordered!

    It better be good mate ^ L ^

Leave a Reply to Marty Mulrooney Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.