Category Archives: Elizabeth Spann Craig

I Want You Just the Way You Are*

LimitationsOne of the things about real-life humans is that we all have our vulnerabilities. I don’t personally know anyone who has no physical limitations, even among people who are young and in good health. There’s just about always something, whether it’s allergies, myopia, or something else that limits a person. And sometimes it’s not even a physical limitation.

That’s one reason for which it’s so refreshing when fictional characters also have those vulnerabilities. I’m not talking here of the sort of psychological vulnerability that you see in, say, ‘stalker’ novels or novels where characters have suffered emotional trauma. Rather, I’m talking of those everyday limitations that make characters seem more human.

For instance, Agatha Christie fans will know that her Hercule Poirot is very particular about the way he dresses. And that includes his shoes. The trouble is of course that sometimes, fashionable shoes are not comfortable. So Poirot isn’t one to walk for long distances when he can avoid it. When he can’t, he pays the price. For instance, in Hallowe’en Party, Poirot travels to the small town of Woodleigh Common to help his friend, detective novelist Ariadne Oliver, solve the drowning murder of thirteen-year-old Joyce Reynolds. At one point, Poirot has to take a bit of a long walk to visit Mrs. Oliver at the home of her host Judith Butler:
 

‘Mrs. Oliver waited until Poirot approached.
‘Come here,’ she said, ‘and sit down. What’s the matter with you? You look upset.’
‘My feet are extremely painful,’ said Hercule Poirot.
‘It’s those awful tight patent leather shoes of yours,’ said Mrs. Oliver.
 

She’s right. As it is, Poirot is not exactly in marathon-running form. And a painful pair of shoes makes it all worse. It also adds a little to his humanity. If you’ve ever worn a pair of shoes that pinched your feet, you know what that’s like.

Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe is also not in top physical condition. To put it bluntly, he’s quite heavy, as fans will know. Of course, he’s made accommodations for that. He has an elevator that takes him to the different parts of his house, so that he doesn’t have to puff up staircases. He doesn’t go running around after suspects (Archie Goodwin, Fred Durkin, Saul Panzer and Orrie Cather do that). And limitations or no, he’s a brilliant detective. But the point is that he has vulnerabilities. And as cantankerous and eccentric as Wolfe can be, that aspect of his character makes him more accessible.

The same could be said of Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma. Precious Ramotswe. She is, as McCall Smith puts it, ‘a traditionally built lady.’ She can’t go running after people or engage in really strenuous physical activity. In that sense, she’s limited. And sometimes, she feels limited in another way. For instance, in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, she is following a young teenage girl whose father is worried that she may have a secret boyfriend. Mma. Ramotswe stops to admire a rack of African-print blouses:
 

Buy one of these, Mma.’ said the woman. ‘Very good blouses. They never run. Look, this one I’m wearing has been washed ten, twenty times and hasn’t run. Look.’…
‘You wouldn’t have my size,’ said Mma. Ramotswe. ‘I need a very big blouse.’
The trader checked her rack and then looked at Mma. Ramotswe again.
‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘You are too big for these blouses. Far too big.”
 

Mma. Ramotswe is comfortable with her size for the most part, and with herself. She is also certainly comfortable wearing clothes that are suited to her build. But she is also realistically limited by it.

Karin Fossum’s Inspector Konrad Sejer is no longer a young man. But for the most part, he’s in fairly good physical shape. He even goes skydiving at times. But he has his limitations too. In his case, it’s eczema, which especially flares up when he’s under severe work stress. Sejer doesn’t obsess about it; he uses medicated cream and gets on with life. But that little touch of vulnerability adds a human aspect to his character that makes him more approachable. You could say the same of Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope. She’s a terrific and skilled detective. But she’s – erm – no longer twenty, and she’s not in top physical condition. What’s more, she too has eczema. Those little details, since they are realistically depicted (‘though not overdone) make her more accessible.

As we age, of course, those little ‘creaks and groans’ get more frequent. And there are several older fictional characters (you could name lots more than I could, I know) who show those age-related limitations. For instance, Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Myrtle Clover is in her eighties. She’s not in particularly bad condition. As a matter of fact, given her age, she’s fairly healthy. But she uses a cane. She can’t walk very quickly, and she tires more easily than a younger person would. Those things don’t make her any less of a smart, skilled sleuth, but they are everyday vulnerabilities that she has to take into account. And she’s all the more human for it.

Of course, not all vulnerabilities are physical (or even psychological). For example, Jill Edmondson’s Toronto PI Sasha Jackson is young and physically healthy. She’s also not crippled by phobias or other psychological issues. But she is limited by not driving. In Toronto of course, one can take public transit to lots of different places. But that means one can’t really set one’s own schedule. And there are places that aren’t as easily accessible via a train or a bus. In those cases, Jackson often depends on rides. Fans will know that she’s working with a driving instructor – when she can. But her lack of freedom to just hop into a car and get where she’s going does limit her. And that makes her both vulnerable and human.

There’s always a risk in giving a character limitations. It’s easy to fall into the trap of making a sleuth or major character a helpless victim, and that can be both melodramatic and very much overdone. It’s also easy if one’s not careful to go on and on too much about whatever vulnerability the sleuth may have. That can be tiresome. But when it’s done deftly and with restraint, giving a sleuth or major character some sort of limitation can make that character a lot more credible. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to look for my specs…
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Jill Edmondson, Karin Fossum, Rex Stout

Who Cares What They’re Wearing on Main Street or Saville Row*

Dressmakers and TailorsAn excellent post from Moira at Clothes in Books has got me thinking about dress shops. We may not see so many of the old-fashioned dressmaker establishments any more, but there’s something about having a dress or a suit custom-fitted. Clothes that are tailored to the individual fit like nothing else, and a good tailor or dress shop professional can help you choose exactly the right clothes for your body type, physical appearance, age and lifestyle.

Because custom-fitted clothes are individually altered, tailors and dress shops can be very good contexts for getting to know fictional characters. For one thing, readers can get a sense of a character’s personality. For another, such shops can be really effective contexts for character interactions and for giving a glimpse of a particular era or segment of society. Here are just a few examples from crime fiction.

In Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train, we are introduced to Katherine Grey. She’s spent the last ten years as paid companion to wealthy Mrs. Harfield and has been content enough. When her employer dies, Katherine finds to her shock that she has inherited Mrs. Harfield’s entire fortune. She begins to make plans for her future, and one of her first stops is a well-regarded dressmaker’s:
 

Her first action was to visit the establishment of a famous dressmaker.
A slim, elderly Frenchwoman, rather like a dreaming duchess, received her, and Katherine spoke with a certain naiveté.
‘I want, if I may, to put myself in your hands. I have been very poor all my life and know nothing about clothes, but now I have come into some money and want to look really well dressed.’’

 

As you can imagine, the dressmaker is delighted at the prospect of matching Katherine with just the right clothes for her, and it works very well. In fact, in more than one place in the novel, remarks are made about how well-dressed she is. Katherine’s next stop is a trip to visit a distant cousin Lady Rosalie Tamplin, who lives in Nice. That’s how she comes to be on the famous Blue Train when another passenger, Ruth Van Aldin Kettering, is strangled. Since she was the last person known to speak to the victim, Katherine gets involved in the investigation, and so does Hercule Poirot, who was also a passenger on the fateful trip. I know, I know, fans of The Hollow and of Three Act Tragedy…

Anthony Bidulka’s Saskatoon PI sleuth Russell Quant certainly takes care of his appearance, but he has neither the time nor the budget to keep himself in the finest of fashion. That’s why he so relies on his ‘wonderpants,’ a pair of simple but attractive black pants that don’t wrinkle and look good for just about every occasion. But Quant’s friend and mentor Anthony Gatt has a different attitude. Gatt is a clothing expert and owner of a very upmarket chain of men’s clothing stores. At one point in Flight of Aquavit, Quant pays a visit to Gatt’s flagship store. Here’s Gatt’s reaction to what Quant’s wearing:
 

So boring I could pass out,’ Anthony said with a convincing yawn as he held forth a pair of pants he’d grabbed seemingly from thin air. How does he do that? ‘Diesel Kulter black leather straight-legs or…’ Poof! Another pair! ‘…Theory Tristan surf indigo stretch cotton jeans. I imagine you’ll prefer the jeans even though a man with such wonderfully long legs and shapely posterior should go with leather, because so few can.”
 

It’s easy to see that Gatt not only knows his business, but he’s also skilled at matching clothes to a person’s lifestyle and body shape.

A tailor shop plays a vital role in Peter James’ Not Dead Yet. In that novel, Superintendent Roy Grace of the Brighton and Hove Police is faced with a very puzzling case. The torso of an unidentified man has been found in an unused chicken coop. There are very few clues as the man’s identity, so even missing person reports aren’t very helpful. But there is one piece of evidence: a small bit of cloth. Grace’s second-in-command Glenn Branson has the idea of taking the cloth to a tailor he knows, Gresham Blake, to see if he can help identify it. His idea proves to be a good one, as Blake points the team towards the possible source of the cloth. In the end, that information helps to identify the victim.

In Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig‘s) Hickory Smoked Homicide, Memphis restaurant owner Lulu Taylor gets involved in a murder case when her daughter-in-law Sara becomes a suspect. Socialite and beauty-contest coach Tristan Pembroke is killed during a charity event at her home. Since she and Sara had a very public argument shortly before the murder, Sara is naturally ‘of interest’ to the police. But Lulu knows her daughter-in-law is innocent. So she looks into the matter. One branch of the trail leads to Dee Dee’s Daring Dress Shoppe, where Lulu’s been buying her clothes for a long time, and where many beauty pageant contestants have also shopped. So Lulu brings her friend Cherry Hayes to the shop to look for information. The pretext is that Cherry wants a new look, and needs Dee Dee’s help to match clothes to her appearance. Meanwhile Lulu will try to find out what she wants to know. The plan works, as Cherry makes much of wanting exactly the right new look. Dee Dee of course wants the business, and doesn’t approve anyway of Cherry’s flamboyant style. So Cherry succeeds in distracting her. It’s an interesting scene for a few reasons, one of which is that it gives us a look at modern customer service in dress shops.

And then there’s Kerry Greenwood’s Earthly Delights, which introduces us to Melbourne baker Corinna Chapman. She is accustomed to wearing trousers or track pants, and she’ll tell you herself that she’s overweight and comfortable with that – no overly expensive clothes needed or really desired. But she has a particularly good experience when she gets the chance to wear a custom-made dress. She and her new partner Daniel Cohen are looking into a series of deaths and near-deaths from heroin overdose. The trail seems to lead to a Goth club called Blood Lines. But it’s not the sort of place you visit dressed in just anything. So, in order to gain admission, Corinna gets help from her friend, clothing-shop owner Pat, who’s better known by her professional name Mistress Dread. Pat/Mistress Dread designs and creates a completely new look for Corinna. The dress fits perfectly and gives Corinna a very different perspective on her physical appearance. Daniel seems to appreciate it too…

And that’s the thing about tailors and dressmakers. They can make you feel completely different about the way you look. And their shops are good places to find out information. Which examples have I forgotten?

Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration. Want to know more about clothes, dress shops and what it all says about us? You want Clothes in Books on your blog roll. It’s the source for sartorial splendour in fiction.

ps. The ‘photo is of the dress my daughter wore to her prom. We got it at an upmarket dress shop where my daughter had her first (and hopefully, not only) experience at having clothes crafted just for her. Trust me, she stunned in it.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin’s You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Kerry Greenwood, Peter James, Riley Adams

Turn the Choral Music Higher, Pile More Wood Upon the Fire*

Preparing For GatheringsIt’s the time of year when people make plans for office parties, family gatherings and holiday travel. There are often all sorts of preparations to be made for everything from clothing to cleaning to food and travel tickets. And that’s to say nothing of gifts (but that’s for another post). It all can add up to an awful lot of stress. Part of the reason for that is arguably that people often picture an ‘ideal, perfect holiday’ as they plan, and hold themselves to that ideal. And of course, all sorts of disasters can happen, and people want to avoid them.

Certainly the stress of those preparations is a fact of real life, and of course, it’s there in crime fiction, too. That sort of stress is seldom the reason for a murder, but it does ratchet up the pace and sometimes the suspense. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (AKA Murder For Christmas and A Holiday For Murder), wealthy family patriarch Simeon Lee decides to invite the members of his family to Gorston Hall for Christmas. Lee is an unpleasant tyrant, but he is very wealthy, so no-one dares refuse the invitation. Lee’s son Alfred and Alfred’s wife Lydia share the home, so most of the preparations fall on them. And it’s not going to be pleasant, either. For one thing, Alfred finds out that his brother Harry, whom he’s disliked for years, will be there. So will his niece Pilar, whom he’s never met. For another, there will be extra bedrooms, more food and so on that will need to be planned. None of the other family members are any more keen to prepare for this holiday, but everyone duly gathers. On Christmas Eve, Simeon Lee is murdered. Hercule Poirot is staying in the area with a friend, and he agrees to work with the local police to investigate. As it turns out, the murder has everything to do with a past that came back to haunt the victim (I know, I know, fans of The Hollow…)

Gail Bowen’s Murder at the Mendel begins just before Christmas. The Mendel Gallery is planning an exhibition of the artwork of Sally Love. As it happens, she was a friend of academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn, so Kilbourn decides to go to the gallery and see the exhibit. She’d like if possible to see if the friendship could be renewed. But that doesn’t work out as planned; in fact, it’s awkward. Then, when gallery owner Clea Poole is murdered, Sally becomes a likely suspect. Then, there’s another murder. Kilbourn has to juggle getting involved in the murders with final preparations for Christmas and for a week of skiing that she’d planned for herself and her children. And the lead-up to the holiday is a little frantic. Here, for instance, is a snippet of a scene featuring Kilbourn’s daughter Mieka, who’s come home from university for the holidays:
 

‘…my daughter Mieka was sitting at the dining-room table behind piles of boxes and wrapping paper and ribbons…
‘Help,’ she said. ‘I’m three days behind in my everything.’
I sat down beside her and picked up a box. ‘For whom? From whom?’ I asked.
‘For you. From me. No peeking. Now choose some nice motherly paper. Something sedate.”
 

There’s nothing like the glittery clutter and frantic pace of gift-wrapping…

In Anthony Bidulka’s Flight of Aquavit, successful accountant Daniel Guest hires Saskatoon PI Russell Quant to find out who’s been blackmailing him. Guest is married and firmly ‘in the closet,’ but he has had some trysts with men. And someone’s found out about it. Quant agrees to see what he can do, although he thinks it would be more logical for his client to simply come out as gay. This Guest refuses to do, so Quant gets to work on the case. The search for the truth takes Quant to New York, where he finds out some surprising truths. When he returns, there’s a murder. And an attempt on his own life. Meanwhile, Quant’s mother Kay has come to stay for the Christmas holidays. He loves his mother, but it’s awkward living at close quarters with her now that he’s an adult. But Kay does come in handy as Quant gets ready for his annual Christmas come ‘n’ go. He’s not really a particularly high-strung person, as the saying goes, but he does want things to look nice and turn out well. And with Kay’s help, they do.

There’s a lot at stake in Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Delicious and Suspicious. The Cooking Channel’s Rebecca Adrian has come to Memphis to choose the restaurant that will win the coveted Best Barbecue award. The award will mean lots of recognition and more business for the winning restaurant, so everyone at Aunt Pat’s Barbecue is eager to show the place off to best effect. Aunt Pat’s has been in Lulu Taylor’s family for generations, and as current owner, she oversees everything that goes on there. When Adrian arrives, Taylor’s as anxious as anyone else for the visit to go well:
 

Got to be the Cooking Channel scout,’ Lulu hissed. She scurried to the mirror. ‘I knew I should have worn my power suit today!”
 

She and her family members do their best to make their guest welcome, and she’s confident that the food will be delicious. But only a few hours later, Adrian dies of what turns out to be poison. Then the gossip starts to spread that the victim was killed by the food at Aunt Pat’s. Taylor wants to salvage the restaurant’s reputation and keep the business going, so she decides to investigate. And she soon learns that more than one person had a good reason to want Rebecca Adrian dead.

Martin Edwards’ The Serpent Pool begins on New Year’s Eve. Cumbria Constabulary DCI Hannah Scarlett and her partner Marc Amos are planning to go to a New Year’s Eve party at the home of successful attorney Stuart Wagg. It’s more upmarket than Scarlett likes, but she’s persuaded to go. She doesn’t lack confidence in herself most of the time, but there is of course the question of what to wear:
 

‘…her mind drifted back to the wardrobe challenge. Leather trousers were a safe bet. They were the colour of chocolate fudge cake – if she daren’t eat it, at least she could wear something that reminded her of it. That halter neck top with copper sequins, maybe, plus the brown boots for tramping outside to watch the firework display.’
 

The two go to the party and at first Scarlett’s pleased with her clothing choice, even getting compliments. But then then things go downhill. First, there’s a loud argument and one of the guests, after too much to drink, throws a glass of red wine at another and storms out. Not many days later, the host is murdered. Scarlett and her Cold Case Review Team are already looking into a six-year-old murder, and they find that this recent one (and another killing as well) is connected.

As crime fiction shows us, it doesn’t matter how frantically and carefully we prepare for gatherings. Anything can happen, and sometimes does…
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s She’s Right On Time.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Gail Bowen, Martin Edwards, Riley Adams

I Want to be Elected*

VotingWhen many people think of elections and politics, they think of national-level elections. And that makes sense, since presidents and prime ministers have a great deal of power, and those elections get a lot of press. But it’s often the local and state/province/department – level elections that have the most impact on our day-to-day lives. For example, when you apply for a permit to build a house or develop some land, you generally don’t do so at the national level. So smaller elections can be very important.

They can stir up real passion, too, and the buildup of tension and excitement can be an interesting backdrop for a crime story. An election can also serve as an interesting sub-plot, even if it’s not the most important plot thread of a story.

In Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances, up-and-coming Saskatchewan politician Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is preparing to make a very important speech at a local picnic/barbecue. He’s widely seen as his party’s next leader, so everyone wants to hear what he has to say. As he’s beginning his speech, though, he takes a sip of water and then suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. One of his campaign workers and speechwriters is political scientist and academician Joanne Kilbourn. She’s also a personal friend. When Boychuk dies, she decides to deal with her grief by writing a biography of him. The more she learns about Andy Boychuk’s life, the more she sees that there are sides to him that no-one knew. That search for the truth also leads Kilbourn to the truth about who killed Boychuk and why – and into real danger for herself.

We see the power of local politics too in Peter Temple’s Bad Debts. Danny McKillop spent eight years in prison for the drink driving murder of Melbourne citizens’ rights activist Anne Jeppeson. Now he’s been released, and he is desperate to contact the attorney who represented him Jack Irish. But before Irish can meet up with his former client, McKillop is murdered. Irish feels guilty already because he didn’t do a good job of defending McKillop in the first place. So he decides to look into the murder. He soon discovers that the victim was most likely framed for the killing of Anne Jeppeson. If that’s the case, then not only is the killer still free, but that person also probably murdered McKillop. As Irish and journalist Linda Hillier get closer to the truth, they discover that it’s all related to dirty politics, greed and intrigue.

Alan Orloff’s Deadly Campaign features a U.S. Congressional campaign. Edward Wong has just won the Democratic primary election, and will soon be preparing to face his Republican opponent in the larger general election. One night there’s a celebration event at the Northern Virginia restaurant owned by Wong’s uncle Thomas Lee. During the evening, a group of thugs bursts in and breaks up the party, using baseball bats to cause damage to the restaurant. Wong’s family does not want the police involved, but his uncle sees things differently. Lee asks his friend Channing Hayes, who co-owns a nearby comedy club, to ask around and see if he can find out who’s responsible for the attack, before anyone gets hurt or worse. Hayes reluctantly agrees. It’s not long though before the Wong family finds out that Lee and Hayes have been looking into what happened. The family leaders make it very clear to both that their involvement is not necessary; the matter is settled and there is no need to ask any more questions. They also make some not-very-veiled threats about the consequences if either man continues to investigate. Lee though is determined to find out the truth and Hayes feels no choice but to continue. Besides, he’s not exactly enamoured of the Wong family. And what the two find is that the attack is related to politics, greed and power-grabbing. And so are some murders that also occur in the novel…

We see an example of more local politics in Shelly Reuben’s The Boys of Sabbath Street. Artemus Ackerman is mayor of the small city of Calendar. A former magician, he wants to convert an old local theatre building into a museum of magic. To do that, he’ll need funding and the support of city leaders. He thinks he may be getting everything arranged when there’s a fire on the same street as the building. Then there’s another. And another. It’s soon obvious that there’s an arsonist at work. If the arsonist isn’t caught, there won’t be public support for this new museum. What’s more, people will likely lose their confidence in their mayor. Ackerman’s smart enough to know this, so he asks his publicist/assistant Maggie Wakeling to find out what she can. She works with Fire Marshal George Copeland to get to the bottom of this nightmare before anyone is killed.

In Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Pretty is as Pretty Dies, retired schoolteacher Myrtle Clover discovers the body of malicious real estate developer Parke Stoddard in a local church. Myrtle’s son Red, who’s the local police chief, doesn’t want his mother involved. In fact, he’d much rather her do things other retired people do – play Bingo, go to church meetings, and so on. But Myrtle is by no means ready to be ‘put out to pasture.’ To show that she’s not going to be pushed aside, she decides to investigate. The victim made more than her share of enemies in her relatively short time in the small town of Bradley, North Carolina, so there are plenty of suspects. One of them is City Councilman Benton Chambers, whom the victim was blackmailing. As Myrtle discovers, Chambers is not the ‘family man’ and ‘man of the people’ that he would have his constituents believe he is. So one very good possible motive for murder here is political.

One of the funniest commentaries on local politics (at least I find it funny) is in Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish, the first in his series featuring Absaroka County, Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire. In this novel, Longmire and his team investigate the murders of two young men who are connected with a vicious gang-rape two years earlier. Longmire isn’t what you’d call a political animal, although he does know the value of showing up at community events and so on. He’d rather just do his job. Still, he understands that he has his job because of people’s votes. At one point in the murder investigation, one of the crime scene investigators says this to Longmire:
 

‘You blow one homicide, it looks like a mistake. You blow two, it starts looking like negligence. Or worse yet, stupidity.’

 

Here’s how Longmire answers.
 

‘I thought I’d use that on the bumper stickers in the next election, VOTE LONGMIRE, HE’S STUPID.’

 

I wonder if that slogan would be successful… ;-)

It’s not just national-level politics that can get downright dirty. Local and state/provincial/department politics can be dangerous too.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alice Cooper’s Elected.

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Filed under Alan Orloff, Craig Johnson, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Gail Bowen, Peter Temple, Shelly Reuben

The Cover Sometimes Makes the Book*

Book Back CoversI think we’d all agree that the quality of a novel has little to do with its cover. Speaking for myself, I’ve read plenty of unforgettable novels that didn’t have remarkable covers, and my share of completely forgettable novels with gorgeous covers. And yet, people spend a great deal of time and effort designing covers. There are cover reveals when books are released, and quite a lot of animated discussion about what should be on those covers when books are being planned.

There are probably several reasons for this. One is that, especially in today’s crowded market, it’s important to get people’s attention quickly. And that often means a great cover. A cover also can serve as a kind of shorthand to tell people about the novel. For instance, have a look at this cover of Will Thomas’ Fatal Enquiry.

 

Fatal Enquiry

It tells you right away that the story takes place in London. The man’s clothes also tell you that the novel takes place in the past.

This is the cover of Sam Hilliard’s The Last Track.

 

Last Track

Just one look at it tells you that the story takes place in a rural area. And the way the man on the cover is dressed tells you right away that the story takes place in modern times. As it turns out, both things are true.

But covers do more than just give a ‘snapshot’ of what’s inside. They also ‘brand’ a novel. Here, for instance is my edition of Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead (Yes, I know, it’s been much loved. I had it as a gift when I was a teenager, and no, I’m not saying how long ago that was).

 

Mrs McGinty

If you notice, there’s a figure of Hercule Poirot on the cover. Christie’s novels have of course come out in dozens of different editions. Each one has some way of ‘branding’ it as a Christie novel.

You can see that sort of ‘branding’ with this cover of Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Delicious and Suspicious.

 

Delicious and Suspicious

If you look at the top, it’s ‘branded’ as part of her Memphis Barbecue series. And that can be very effective in getting readers interested. Fans know to look for that little ‘brand mark’ when they’re looking for a Riley Adams novel, even if they can’t recall the title they want.

A cover can also give readers a sense of the sort of crime fiction novel they’re considering. For instance, here’s the cover of Lindy Cameron’s Redback.

 

Redback

The cover tells you right away that this is probably not a light, cosy read. And it’s not. The cover also has a ‘thrillerish’ sort of feel to it, and that’s exactly what this novel is. It involves terrorism, international intrigue, and a crack Australian rescue team that goes up against them. A-hem, Ms. Cameron – still waiting for the next Team Redback novel…..

Now have a look at the cover of James W. Fuerst’s Huge.

 

Huge

It’s bright red, so it’s attention-getting. But it doesn’t suggest a lot of violence or a fast ‘thriller’ pace. And actually, this novel has neither.

Some people pay particularly close attention to covers. For instance, collectors of books with certain kinds of covers, or from certain eras, look for the sort of cover they want. Others only pay attention to a cover if it’s particularly off-putting. Either way, covers are a really interesting aspect of the crime fiction novel, even if they don’t always tell you whether a novel is of high quality.

And…speaking of covers, here’s the cover of Patti Abbott’s forthcoming release, Concrete Angel.

 

CONCRETE ANGEL

You can tell just by looking that it’s got a theme of someone who’s trapped in a tragic situation. And that’s exactly what the novel is about. It’s coming out in mid-2015, and I’m looking forward to it!

What you do think of this whole issue of covers? Do you pay attention to them? Do you collect books from a certain era because of the cover? Do you look for a certain cover artist’s work? If you’re a writer, what are your thoughts on covers for your books?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Styx’s Miss America.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Elizabeth Spann Craig, James W. Fuerst, Patti Abbott, Riley Adams, Sam Hilliard, Will Thomas