The Tuesday Club Murders #4: Christie’s worst paperback editions

c3a5ddf268c9c4adb2f1c7bd607a8560In the spirit of celebrating Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday anniversary,GAD mystery blogger Curtis Evans proposed recently that some members of our Golden Age of Detection Facebook group should undertake “The Tuesday Club Murders”. Simply put, we’re going to do a Christie piece every week on Tuesday, “for a while anyway”. You’ll find a list of participants and associated links on Curtis’s blog. I’ve been using the cover art for Dell #8, The Tuesday Club Murders, as my symbol for this effort and want to emphasize that I don’t think this is one of the worst editions.

Pocket #753

Pocket #753

The competition for “worst Agatha Christie paperback cover” is stiff indeed — my shortlist was some 40 covers — so I thought I’d put some boundaries on what I was labeling. One aspect of cover art that drives me crazy is where the artist has realistically depicted a scene … that has nothing to do with the book. I don’t mind old-fashioned artistic styles like Good Girl Art (in fact, as you probably realize, they rather appeal to me) but I draw the line at GGA that is only tangentially connected to the action of the novel, if at all. Books that mislead the reader about the kind of book they’re getting are a terrible idea, I suggest; if you pick up a book because you think it’s a romance, and it turns out to be a mystery, you have good reason to be upset.

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Pocket #6109

There are a couple of Christie designs that just boggle my mind. Look at Pocket #753, above; the cover for Crooked House depicting a giant hypodermic needle. (It is highly esteemed among “dope art” aficionados.) I mean, okay, you’ll find a hypodermic needle in the book. But it’s like advertising Moby Dick as a novel about scrimshaw. Another really strange set of choices is shown in Pocket #6109 nearby; So Many Steps to Death (aka Destination Unknown). I agree the action takes place in Morocco; the fashions of Morocco are only vaguely known to the artist, who appears to have concealed the swordsman’s lower regions with a lacy quilt. But the sullen redhead to me bears very little relationship to the doughty heroine who agrees to become a spy. And, um — I don’t remember any menacing swordsman playing a significant role in this book.

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Pocket #80290

I don’t usually object to book covers that attempt to realistically depict scenes from the book — unless, like Pocket #80290, with the acid-green cover for Crooked House, they set the action back 25 years and get the period hopelessly wrong. (Crooked House was published in 1949, not 1924.) And unless I miss my guess, that’s not a scene from the book unless someone changed the ending. Speaking of changing the ending, Avon #690, The Big Four, depicts one of the villains restraining the innocent young actress, although I think the off-the-shoulder peasant blouse is a bit of a stretch. But the enormous head of the Chinese gentleman in the rear has nothing to do with the action at this point, I’ll suggest.

Avon 245 (1950). Reprint of Avon 3 with Different Covers

Avon 245 (1950).

Perhaps I’ll just leave you with a gallery of weird Christie covers and let you make your own selections — or pick from your own shelves.  If you have a cover in your collection that makes you think, “What were they thinking!”, perhaps you’ve found it here already. Your comments are welcome.

I should add that although I didn’t mean it that way, I seem to have duplicated the approach of another website, Pulp Covers, whose interest in “interesting, lurid, and awesome” paperback covers is shared by me. You should definitely check them out; the particular article on Christie is here. We seem to have a similar disdain for certain kinds of covers and my thoughts and choices of covers for this article were influenced by that site, so I thought I’d give credit where credit is due and give you an interesting link in the process.

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Avon T-149. Perhaps this is what the victim slept in, but I doubt that her murderer was wearing a fez at the time.

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Pocket #617, from 1949. Looks more like a romance than a mystery, doesn’t it?

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An early Avon. The artist has failed to appreciate that Tommy and Tuppence in 1922 wouldn’t dress like it was 1940.

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Pocket #2088. Unless I’ve mis-remembered the book, the body found on the beach was that of a male. (Amended the day of posting: I HAD mis-remembered the book, as was pointed out by a friend in the comments below. I’ll leave this up for my readers’ amusement … it’s not all that terrible if it’s true to the book.)

 

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This scene isn’t in the book, and the profile portrait of Poirot makes him look half-asleep.

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This is actually a rather nice graphic of an actual scene from the book … but it completely misleads the reader. And if you’re going to show a murder on the cover, shouldn’t it be the one described by the title?

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No, she wasn’t killed in the library.

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If I saw a woman with that hairdo, I’d look askance at her too.

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I’m not saying exactly what this makes me think is happening, but it doesn’t necessarily remind me of murder.

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This goes a little beyond Good Girl Art … and I can’t figure out why the victim has been reduced to line art.

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I have no doubt this describes something in the book, although it seems like it’s trying to draw our attention to the boutonniere. This cover makes the list because of the infelicitous phrase, “the master mistress of crime”. Ugh.

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A pretty girl is surprised! Yeah, that looks mysterious.

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The clocks relate to the nursery rhyme — but not the novel.

A Caribbean Mystery

I’d be wide-eyed too, if my eyebrows looked like that.

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HARLEQUIN tea set. It’s a series of interlinked diamond shapes. Not bright red.

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This romance novel seems to think it’s a mystery (that particular shade of pink is an unfortunate choice).

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This Dell edition stands for a bunch of silly-looking editions where they commissioned an illustration that is vaguely creepy and mostly ridiculous. In this case, nothing shown here is related to the murder in the slightest, except perhaps a bullet.

 

 

11 thoughts on “The Tuesday Club Murders #4: Christie’s worst paperback editions

  1. I have some of these and more! I remember when I stumbled across my first Tom Adams cover, after years of buying Dells and Pocketbooks, and realized what a Christie cover SHOULD look like! Great article, Noah! (BTW, Betty Barbard DID die on the beach in ABC.)

  2. Brian Busby says:

    I had to smile, Noah. When I first began reading mysteries a few years back I was surprised by how frequently cover image didn’t match the book. I’m not talking here about making something out to be hotter than it is – my old Signet edition of Faulkner’s Sanctuary is just about the steamiest thing going – but depicting a scene that simply doesn’t figure in the plot.

    Case in point: International Polygonics’ edition of Margaret Millar’s An Air That Kills features the body of a man floating in what looks to be a lake. I made the mistake of looking at that cover before reading the book – and, of course, in reading same I expected the body to turn up. Sure, one is found in a lake, but it’s not floating. It wasn’t until just about the end that I came to realize he wasn’t going to turn up. Similar sins were committed by the novel’s other publishers. If interested, I’ve done a bit of a run-down:

    http://brianbusby.blogspot.ca/2012/02/millar-mystery-and-art-of-deception.html

    Thanks for my morning smile.

    • Noah Stewart says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Brian! For me the worst ones are the ones where the cover artist simply gives away the ending. As our mutual friend John notes in the comments to your page, there’s an edition of Christie’s The Sittaford Mystery where the artist has neglected to be circumspect, and there’s an edition of a Georgette Heyer mystery that contains a child’s toy that is crucial to the mechanics of the solution. The terrible part is, it’s not a good idea to tell people about these cover flaws because they might otherwise manage to make it to the end without realizing what they’re looking at!

  3. Bev Hankins says:

    I know the lady wasn’t killed in the library, but I do have a fondness for editions that depict libraries on the cover. I think I want that one now….

  4. These are hilarious Noah, I love them. I have to say, I love the Tom Adams covers as works of art, but I sometimes have issues with the actual choices of objects… The Crooked House one for example. Footwear. Either too tangential, or spoiler-esque.

    • Noah Stewart says:

      I certainly love the Tom Adams covers myself, some more than others. But Crooked House has always been a favourite for me BECAUSE of that choice of footwear and some diaristic entries concerning it. (You’ve been graciously very delicate about spoilers, and I shall try to match your finesse.) When I think of this book, I actually am reminded of that precise diary entry in the book, so the footwear is bound up with the book for me. But I know that’s an idiosyncratic reaction, I was just pleased that Adams had pressed that emotional button for me.
      The blogger to whom I linked in the body of the review selected the Adams cover for Death in the Air for censure, but I really like that one too. Because the wasp “looms large” over the plot structure.

  5. The last cover shown does have things on it related to the novel. The mold of the teeth, the dental mirror, the bullet as you said, not sure about the spider or the jack in the box clown (I read the book a while ago and forget) but maybe the jack in the box clown is supposed to represent a sudden surprise.

    • Noah Stewart says:

      Sure, they’re related to the novel; I agree, they suggest things and events in the novel. My point is that they’re not in the novel in any significant sense. If Poirot had used a dental mirror in the book to look at something and find a clue, that’s the kind of presence I’m looking for. And there definitely are physical objects in the book that have importance and presence; a black shoe with a paste decoration, for instance, as many artists have found.
      I suppose I am sensitive to the plight of the person who comes to the end of the book and says, “Hey, where the hell is the jack in the box?” 😉

  6. curtis evans says:

    Oh my, Easy to Kill, well what can one say?

    I remember as a kid usually hating those Dell covers, they seemed so random. As a kid I actually liked the Pockets with the people and often the Albert Finneyish Poirot. I had that Crooked House and see what you mean though.

    The Nemesis cover is by Tom Adams, I suppose the color was chosen to represent roses? But it does make it look like a romance novel. (Yet it is a tale of thwarted romance, isn’t it?)

  7. […] I’ve had some fun recently showing you some of the “worst” paperback covers for Agatha Christie, I hope you realize it’s all in good fun. What seems modern and […]

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