Frightful & Delightful

James Albon serves up the ultimate mushroom madness in The Delicacy

Book review by Rachel Trachten


James Albon’s wickedly clever graphic novel, The Delicacy, tells the story of two brothers from Scotland whose dream of growing organic food and opening a restaurant in London spins into a tale of greed, selfishness, and ultimately, murder.

When brothers Rowan and Tulip learn that they’ve inherited property near London from a deceased aunt and uncle, they reconsider their current situation living with their mother in the Scottish countryside, where they raise chickens and listen to Mom’s incessant warnings about the dangers of toxic soil, chemicals in food, mercury in vaccines, and the hazards of big-city life. The brothers see the inheritance as a chance to follow their dreams.

Rowan takes up organic farming on their new land and Tulip (now calling himself “Danny” to create a London persona) turns that food into restaurant-worthy dishes. On the menu—mysterious mushrooms that Rowan has discovered on their land. At first, the brothers think the mushrooms are chanterelles, though they can’t identify them in any book. No ordinary fungi, the now dubbed “Rowan” mushrooms attract customers from near and far: “Diners are struck not only by the mushrooms’ delicious flavour,” but also experience “overwhelming feelings of joy, vivacity, and energy” after eating them.

As the story unfolds, Danny’s greed and ambition mount, and he expands his restaurant empire, demanding that Rowan find more and more mushrooms. No longer interested in the organic produce Rowan is growing, Danny becomes obsessed with the massive appeal the mushrooms hold for customers. The plot thickens as gangsters, food critics, and various business types enter the scene, and Danny and Rowan discover the terrible secret behind their coveted mushrooms.

Albon’s highly entertaining story also touches on important moral and political issues. “The moral aspect of the story is a tale as old as time,” he says: “a man who becomes overwhelmed with greed and who abandons his family and community to fulfill the ambitions which prove his downfall; and in itself, that has a clear resonance with today’s political landscape as a warning against the dangers of unbridled capitalism. On top of that,” he adds, “there exists a whole realm of political questions that surround the nature of food and fine dining. The paradox [is] that while the need to eat is universal, what and where we eat is highly stratified, based on wealth and class, and these class divisions are not only visible but increasingly widening here in Britain and also in the United States.”

A resident of Scotland, Albon studied illustration at Edinburgh College of Art and the Royal Drawing School in London. His previous graphic novels include Her Bark & Her Bite and A Shining Beacon.

In this excerpt from The Delicacy (used by permission from James Albon/Top Shelf Comics), Rowan and Danny discover the grim secret behind the Rowan mushroom’s appeal.