Vertigo Crime Comics: A Sickness in the Family

“I keep trying to pull us all together, but I can’t seem to get hold of all the pieces.”

Sam narrates how his adopted family fell apart in this psychological suspense comic.

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A Sickness in the Family by Denise Mina book cover

TITLE:

A SICKNESS IN THE FAMILY

WRITER:

by Denise Mina

ARTISTS:

by Antonio Fuso

PUBLISHER:

DC Comics/Vertigo Imprint

GENRE:

Graphic Novel, Crime, Psychological Suspense

DESCRIPTORS:

Dissolution of the Family, Adultery, Drug Addiction, Adoption, Elderly Care, Elderly Abuse, Home Remodeling, Murder,

SUMMARY:

When the couple who live downstairs, explodes in a fury of murder and suicide, Ted Usher sees an opportunity. He buys the “flat” downstairs. Then he hires people to rip a hole in the floor of his family’s apartment and have a staircase built in, connecting the two levels and increasing the property value.

Unfortunately, the Usher family is in trouble as emotions rise unabated and the members begin to fall away from each other. When the staircase stalls out, Grandma Martha has an accident and falls thirty feet in the hole to the floor below — or was she pushed?

Unable to walk, talk or take care of herself, the Ushers move her into a bedroom on the first floor and proceed to forget about her — save for the adopted son, Sam.

“This Place” — scrawled in blood on the first floor wall — bothers Sam, as the rest of the family begins to implode. . . . and then they start dying.

WHY I LIKED IT:

Denise Mina is an accomplished novelist and comic book scripter, said to be “one of the leading figures in Scotland’s ‘Tartan Noir’ genre of crime fiction.” I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as Tartan noir. However, this graphic novel is straight up crime fiction with a psychological twist — and I liked it.

Mina starts up her tale of family dysfunction with Sam narrating the story to the reader. Each time we return to Sam in the storytelling, we get a little more information about him visually. Mina makes good use of the graphic nature of the comic format and the visuals are important to the story.

Antonio Fuso works very well in grayscale. His art is crisp, clear and moody. The characters look different and his lines make the older men and women look older — and care worn.

The opening chapter was a little confusing as we had three narrative threads to hang on to — Sam narrating the story in the present day, the Usher family having dinner and the couple downstairs living their abusive relationship until the murder/suicide that concludes chapter one. After that the story is smooth reading.

Although you enter the story thinking you know how it’s going to turn out — Mina makes the trip eventful and surprising and a little chilling. In the end, you have all the clues laid out to understand what happened to the Ushers, but it’s not handed to you on a silver platter.

READALIKES:

Here is a Riffle book list displaying the Vertigo Crime Comics Series to date:

The Vertigo Crime Comics Series:

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