Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Decision Time: Best Crime Covers of 2014

Later this week, I’ll begin posting lists from Rap Sheet contributors of their favorite crime, mystery, and thriller novels published over the last 12 months. Meanwhile, though, I want to get the discussion started about 2014’s top book cover designs.

Except in 2012, this blog has polled readers annually ever since 2007 to determine what they thought were the most engaging and elegant crime novel fronts produced in the preceding 12 months. We’ve sometimes been surprised by the choices made, but never disappointed. Despite what some people might say, cover design is a vital ingredient of any book. Hardcover jackets and paperback façades act as posters, announcing the subject and tenor of the story to be told in the pages that follow. At their best, book fronts are also fine art, works worth admiring and perhaps collecting on their own. Sadly, many of the genre entries filling up bookstore shelves these days do little to distinguish themselves from one another; they play it safe, using imagery (men or women fleeing from the camera, desolate landscapes, haunted human faces, etc.) that some marketing person is convinced will immediately tell readers what to expect. “The path of least resistance when you’re designing a jacket,” says Peter Mendelsund, an associate art director at publisher Alfred A. Knopf, “is to give that particular demographic exactly what they want. It’s a mystery novel, so you just splatter it in blood, and put the shadowy trench coat guy on it, and use the right typography.” The covers most deserving of attention and acclaim are instead those that defy expectations, those that employ photographs, illustrations, and headline typefaces in ways (and combinations) that engage the eyes as well as the imagination.

Combining some of our own choices with additional suggestions from Rap Sheet followers, we’ve assembled the gallery below of 20 crime novel covers--all released during 2014, on both sides of the Atlantic--that offer more than the usual complements of expertise, cleverness, subtlety, and freshness. Now it’s your turn to declare which of these you like best.

At the bottom of this post you’ll find a simple ballot on which to vote for your favorites among these contenders. You are welcome to select as many covers here as you think deserve praise. We’ll keep the voting open until midnight on Sunday, December 21, after which the results will be tallied and announced.

Click on any of the covers below to open an enlargement.

ONE THING MORE: If you think we have neglected to mention some other crime-fiction cover from 2014 that is also deserving of widespread praise, please post a comment about it at the end of this piece. Just be sure to include a link to where on the Web other Rap Sheet readers can see that additional cover for themselves.

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