Guns and Roses

During the last year or so, I’ve noticed a growing trend for thrillers on Amazon to have absurd bylines that read something along the lines of: “A gripping psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the final, utterly shocking twist”.

Why are they doing this? Surely a picture of a remote cottage and a title like ‘Nowhere to Hide’ are enough of a clue. Indeed, whatever happened to the cliche about a picture painting a thousand words?

I suppose the answer is that the impact of book jackets has been significantly dimished by the advent of online sellers and ebooks. I’d be interested to know what the average budget for a book jacket today is compared to, say, 20 years ago, when the average cover for a thriller novel was usually understated and very effective.

However go back another 20 or 30 years and once again, subtlety has gone out of the window. Sorting through my decaying inventory last week, I noticed how the covers of older thrillers were all largely variations on the same theme: a man holding a gun, with an often scantily-clad woman next to him.

thriller01
According to Wikipedia, Grant Holmes is a baseball player born in 1996. Further research has been unfruitful. As you can see, like the modern jackets, we have a helpful byline to tell us that this is a ‘hard-driving thriller’, in case the dead body and gun weren’t enough of a clue.

thriller1a

In this cover, we get two guns for the price of one. As for Mike Brewer, a brief internet search has revealed that he owns a car dealership in Sheffield and is also a professor of economics at the Institute for Fiscal Research. There is no mention of any thrillers.

thriller05

We’re now in the 1960s and the raincoats have gone out of fashion.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, but I always used to think that if a book jacket only had quotes from a provincial newspaper, this was generally a bad sign.The exceptions to this rule were The London Evening Standard, The Scotsman and, perhaps, The Yorkshire Post. I can’t remember why I thought this.

Desmond Skirrow was a local man, who lived in in Brighton and died in his early 50s. According to a Wikipedia article, Skirrow was “Tall, big, bearded and seemingly incapable of being serious for more than a few minutes at a time.” He worked at an advertising agency with the motor racing commentator Murray Walker, who later claimed that they disliked each other intensely.

thriller03

If I was writing a thriller, I probably wouldn’t call my hero Ira Hand. But as names go, it’s not as bad as the one William Shatner chose for the hero of his Tekwar series: Jake Cardigan.

thriller02

We’re now well into the 1970s and this chap isn’t even wearing a tie! But otherwise, the casual sexism and hint of danger remain the same.

Brett Halliday was the pen name of Davis Dresser, which also sounds like a pen name (albeit a rather bad one). As a boy, Dresser lost an eye in an unfortunate encounter with some barbed wire, but that didn’t prevent him from becoming a remarkably prolific writer of thrillers, under a variety of pseudonyms.

thriller06
We have now reached the age of what my father used to refer to as “those flippin’ women’s libbers”. The image of a woman holding a gun would have been more of a blow for feminism if she’d been wearing some clothes. As it is, this cover is as dated and sexist as all the others.

These covers are mildly amusing, but they are nothing compared to some of the horrors that I will reveal at a later date.

18 comments

  1. Zoe

    Wonderful, hilarious. I met a girl of my children’s age recently who told me she only buys actual books if she likes the cover design; otherwise she buys the ebook. I’d never thought of making the choice on that basis but in her opinion books are objects and, if they are ugly objects, she doesn’t want them cluttering up her space

    Like

  2. George

    A local used bookstore carries a line of postcards showing such covers. I don’t know the name of the company that prints them, but will have a look next time I go past Idle Time Books.

    Like

  3. Allen

    “they are nothing compared to some of the horrors that I will reveal at a later date.”
    …as Dr Watson often pointed out.

    Like

  4. mikepetty

    You’re right about the provincials – and the in extremis exceptions. It wasn’t unknown for the Coventry Evening Telegraph to be shortened to Telegraph.

    Glad to have tracked you down – I was MikeP in the old place – I seem to be someone else now.

    Like

    • Steerforth

      I didn’t know about that cheeky publishing trick, but I’m not surprised. Next time I see ‘The Times’ I’ll wonder if it’s the Richmond and Twickenham Times.

      On the subject of review quotes, another publication that always smacked of barrel-scraping was the Kirkus Review.

      Like

      • Mike Petty

        Kirkus was always the first US review, being a heads-up to booksellers and librarians, so was always handy to put on a book/jacket proof in the absence of anything else. Sometimes it made it all the way through because there was still nothing else worth quoting!

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s