In the spirit of celebrating Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday anniversary,my fellow GAD mystery blogger Curtis Evans proposed recently that some members of our Golden Age of Detection Facebook group should undertake “The Tuesday Club Murders”, which has transmogrified into the Tuesday Night Bloggers. Simply put, we’re going to publish a Christie piece every Tuesday in October.
We’ve recently decided to continue with a different Golden Age mystery writer every month; the first three weeks of November will be devoted to Ellery Queen.
#6: My favourite Agatha Christie paperback covers
Although 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 avant-garde to the contemporaneous eye may cause laughter 40 or 50 years later … every generation has its preferred style. What I find most attractive about early paperbacks is the raw and unaffected nature of the design. These folks weren’t running on research telling them where focus groups think they should be putting the author’s name, and how large, and what fonts they like most and least. They were inventing things that they thought would appeal to people and
marketing books as best they could. Sometimes they got it wrong; sometimes they got it hilariously wrong. But sometimes they created beautiful books.
Some of my favourites include, of course, early Dell mapback editions (I’ve talked about those separately); they will always be dear to my heart. But other houses had interesting approaches as well. I’ve always liked the “picture-frame” covers from perhaps a year’s worth of early Avon editions (check out Death in the
Air and Holiday for Murder nearby); Avon seemed to do a nice job in its early days with skilful illustration with a healthy helping of Good Girl Art (GGA). Similarly Pocket had a point in time when they seemed to be linking mysteries with surrealism (see Evil Under the Sun). Highly-regarded Christie cover artist Tom Adams also specialized in surrealism and there’s a copy of The Murder at the Vicarage near here that is a riff on a classic Magritte painting.
Some people may find it odd that I’ve got a classic Penguin greenback as a favourite — I’ve always thought these were the essence of minimalist chic, and their preferred font of Gill is one of my favourites. There’s something just so audacious about it, like saying, “Oh, all our books are worth reading; the cover just lets you know that we’ve endorsed yet another title.” The very earliest Penguins come with matching dust jackets and I love that idea too.
And finally — one of my favourites is the crazy-looking cover for Cards on the Table where a clever artist has created a portrait of Christie herself out of a deck of playing cards and household objects! Perhaps not beautiful but original and challenging.
Enjoy! Next Tuesday night we’ll be switching to three weeks of material celebrating Ellery Queen. My first two pieces will be about books that I consider pivotal to understanding EQ’s oeuvre and that signal
an intention to change literary direction; Halfway House and The Finishing Stroke. I hope lots of my new readers will be persuaded to continue along!