In yesterday’s post, I mentioned the cover of David Rosenfelt’s Unleashed. As you see, it prominently features a dog. So do several other entries into Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter series. And the novels do include dogs (Carpenter is a dog lover and owner of an animal rescue shelter). Rosenfelt, too, is heavily involved in animal rescue. So on that level, it makes sense to feature dogs on the covers. But these novels aren’t really about dogs. They aren’t cosy mysteries in which dogs find the clues, solve the mysteries, and so on. Instead, they feature a New Jersey attorney (Andy Carpenter) who does his best for his clients.
All of this has got me thinking about the messages that crime fiction fans get from the covers of their books. After all, a cover quite frequently gives a first impression of a novel. And many people believe that a cover ought to tell something about the story (without, of course, giving away spoilers).
Some book covers tell almost nothing about the book. Here, for instance, is the cover of my edition of Christopher Brookmyre’s Quite Ugly One Morning. All you see here is the title and Brookmyre’s name. The novel tells the story of journalist Jack Parlabane, who unwittingly stumbles onto a murder scene, and gets himself involved in a crime that leads to some high places. The cover doesn’t show any of that. On the one hand, the title and author’s name are prominent – hard to forget. On the other, would some sort of image help draw reader attention?
There are covers that give small hints as to the story. For example, this is the cover of my edition of Sharon Bolton’s A Dark and Twisted Tide, part of her Lacey Flint series. The vaguely hints at a river, and this novel really does feature the Thames as a main setting. And the character on the cover is a reminder of Flint herself. It’s not particularly specific, though. And many people like it that way, as they don’t want hints as to the novel’s contents.
We also see that sort of thing in this cover of my edition of William Ryan’s The Holy Thief. The cover places the reader in Stalin’s Soviet Union. And that’s where this series takes place. It features Moscow CID Captain Alexei Korolev, who works with his assistant, Sergeant Nadezhda Slivka. In this novel, Korolev is assigned the murder of a young woman whose body is discovered in a former church. He’s working on this case when there’s another murder. And another. These murders have ties to the dreaded NKVD as well as to the just-as-dangerous Moscow Thieves. So solving them may cause as many problems for Korolev as not solving them would. The cover doesn’t specify the church, or give other clues as to this investigation, but it does situate the reader.
There are also book covers that give more specific clues to the mystery. This, for example, is the cover of my edition of Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Dock. That novel takes place at a hostel for students. It involves the murder of a young woman, Celia Austin, by means of poisoned coffee. And there’s a backpack/rucksack in the novel, too. So it’s easy to see why those things are represented on the cover. And of course, since Hercule Poirot is the sleuth in this story, it makes sense that he’s pictured on the cover as well. And yet, the cover doesn’t give the story away.
The same might be said for the cover of my edition of Ed McBain’s Cop Hater, which you see here. This novel introduces the members of the 87th Precinct, in particular Steve Carella. And the focus of the story is the investigation of two murders of police officers. This cover depicts that, as well as the hints at the fact that this isn’t a light mystery.
What do you think about all of this? Do you pay attention to covers? Do you look for hints about what’s inside when you see a book cover? What about those situations where the cover either doesn’t match the story, or says nothing about it? If you’re a writer, how do you go about matching your story to a good cover (if you have a say in the cover)?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bread’s If.