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I, Witness

by Norah McClintock; Mike Deas, illus.

Five-time Arthur Ellis Award winner Norah McClintock branches out with her latest crime story, I, Witness. Illustrated by Mike Deas, the graphic novel tells the story of 17-year-old Boone, who, along with his friend Robbie, witnesses a murder. The boys are divided as to whether they should go to the police, with Boone convincing Robbie to keep quiet. When Robbie, and later another friend, are gunned down after considering speaking up, Boone is left as the sole witness. He feels compelled to silence, yet is riven by guilt.

These events are the hook that pulls us into an entirely different story, as Boone returns to school after summer break and becomes reacquainted with some unsavoury characters from his past. What follows is a plot of intrigue, in which witnesses of various types must come forward, and Boone is forced to discover the courage to speak up.

As a witness Boone can play the victim, but as someone who refuses to snitch, he is complicit in the crimes of others. McClintock plays with this fluidity, moving her protagonist among groups of characters guilty of crimes of varying severity, none of whom know exactly where Boone stands. While this keeps the plot ticking, the story is somewhat let down by the dialogue, which falls into abrupt interrogatives that are more terse cop-show than teen-speak. 

Deas’s illustrations, rendered in black-and-white with some well-placed splashes of red, employ expressive, loose jags of line that effectively channel teenage emotion. However, many of the panels are roughly sketched in with stick-figure-like crudeness, at times making it difficult to tell who’s speaking. What’s more, right from the opening Boone and his buddies are difficult to tell apart, which can be problematic when trying to keep track of who’s been hit during scenes involving gunfire.

McClintock’s first foray into graphica is a teenage mystery with enough twists and turns to interest readers, but the sketchy art style might keep readers from enjoying this suspenseful tale.