Monday, January 09, 2012

Cover Stories

Although The Rap Sheet’s 2011 Best Crime Novel Cover contest didn’t draw as many votes as last year’s competition, there was lots of jockeying for position amongst the dozen contenders before several finally broke away from the pack to become clear reader favorites.

Coming out on top was Penguin’s mid-2011 paperback reprint of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, novelist John le Carré’s 1974 novel--his fifth to feature MI6 intelligence officer George Smiley. Another, less-interesting edition of that book has since been released by Penguin to coincide with the debut of Gary Oldman’s new film version of Tinker, but it’s the previous edition that deserves the greater acclaim. It’s one in a set of seven Le Carré re-releases carrying illustrations by British artist Matt Taylor. His image of a crowd hastening past the backdrop of London’s Houses of Parliament, with one gent in spectacles observing his fellows, nicely reflects Tinker’s tale, which finds Smiley being recruited to unearth a “mole” concealed deep within the highest ranks of the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service. Yet another of Taylor’s striking Le Carré illustrations will front Penguin’s reissue of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, due out on January 18.

This, by the way, is the first time that a paperback has won Best Cover of the Year honors from The Rap Sheet’s readership.

(Click on any of the covers in this post for an enlargement.)

Not far behind Tinker in the voting was the jacket from The Snowman, the fourth of Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s books starring loose-cannon Oslo police detective Harry Hole to be published in the United States. It’s another remarkable effort by Peter Mendelsund, an associate art director at Knopf, whose cover for Mr. Peanut, by Adam Ross, took third place in last year’s book covers contest. (If he keeps going like this, he’ll capture the top spot in 2012.) The Snowman was the first in a line of Nesbø covers for Knopf, giving the Hole series a unified and dark look. For Snowman, the designer used torn pieces of paper to create the figure of a snowman against a black background, with the title and author’s name barely squeezed onto those scraps, and an almost incidental splatter of blood conveying the idea that this is a crime novel. Face-out on store bookshelves, this deceptively crude cover really captures one’s eye. Mendelsund has since followed it up with December’s hardcover release of The Leopard, the fifth Hole yarn, which boasts the scraps-made silhouette of a big, lurking cat.

Completing the top-three tier of winners in this year’s race is the Picador paperback edition of Winterland, by Irish writer Alan Glynn. I’m not sure exactly what book designer Keith Hayes hoped to convey with this cover, but I can make a guess, based on the publisher’s synopsis of Glynn’s second novel:
The worlds of business, Irish politics, and crime collide when two men with the same name, from the same family, die on the same night--one death is a gangland murder, the other, apparently, a road accident. Was it a coincidence? That’s the official version of events. But when a family member, Gina Rafferty, starts asking questions, this notion quickly unravels. Told repeatedly that she should stop asking questions, Gina becomes more determined than ever to find out the truth, to establish a connection between the two deaths--but in doing so, she embarks on a path that will push certain powerful people to their limits.
I assume that the jacket photograph of a bottomless and topless building fire escape (a stock image from Eyespy/GettyImages) is a metaphor for Ms. Rafferty’s daunting climb in pursuit of answers. Meanwhile, the protective plastic covering over the building might suggest the difficulty of her accessing clues along the way. Or maybe I’m reading way too much into that novel’s façade ...

If we push on to complete the top-five list of vote-getters, we conclude with a tie between The Adjustment, by Scott Phillips (published by Counterpoint, with a cover design by Michael Fusco) and Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, by Wesley Stace (published by Picador, with a cover design by Henry Sene Yee--who explains his design process for Charles Jessold here.)

I would like to conclude by thanking my fellow judges--author Linda L. Richards, graphic designer and artist David Middleton, and critic-blogger Kevin Burton Smith--who helped me sift through dozens of interesting crime novel covers over the last 12 months, the same way as they’ve done every year since The Rap Sheet started this contest back in 2007. Without them, and without this blog’s interested and discerning readers, this annual winnowing-out of Best Covers would not be the success it has become.

Let’s hope to find still more captivating book fronts in 2012.

READ MORE:Under Cover: Peter Mendelsund and The Snowman,” by Monica Racic (The New Yorker).


David Cranmer said...

It's about time I re-read the George Smiley books again. Been too many years. These covers are marvelous.

JRSM said...

Yay! Loved a lot of these covers, but the Matt Taylors are just beautiful, and really dynamic interpretations of the Le Carre books.

matt t said...

Cheers for the kind words about the TTSS cover - you might be happy to know that there will be more in this series coming out later in the year.

matt T