The best aspect of writing about The Good, The Mediocre and The Unfathomable in book covers is that this is unchartered territory to a great extent. What this means for The Review Blog is that we can set the benchmark for cover reviews, and then improve on what we do as the months march on. And so, fellow book cover adjudicators/connoisseurs, this month’s offering has five different covers in it – just to keep you salivating or shaking your head that bit longer.
I have selected Action & Adventure as October’s genre, and it goes something like this…
Ostland by David Thomas
Regardless of your taste in action/adventure reading, this book cover cannot fail to convey its intended message from the moment the eye meets with the illustration. Cover designers should take a leaf out of the publisher’s book (Quercus) when at graphic design school, because this cover ticks all of the boxes for great cover design.
The Germanic blood-red lettering initially greets the potential reader and leaves them in no doubt that this book is about the old, powerful Germany. The muted, soul-less background colour conveys almost subliminally that war and winter are involved, and the bloodied railway tracks talk loudly of “violence most foul”. If that isn’t enough, the coup de grace of this stunning cover is the design of the railway tracks themselves and the suggested Star of David arrangement that goes far deeper.
The flip side spiel confirms what the artist has tried to convey, as the book is about serial killings in 1941 Berlin and the uncovering of a group of killers in 1959 peacetime Germany. As the crimes are linked and the leader of the murderous group identified, the reader is then taken back to the desolate Russian Front, the Nazi’s Ostland empire and the Holocaust itself.
How incredibly clever this cover is, and how easily a prospective reader can decide if wartime Germany, crime, terror and the Holocaust is their thing. If it is, and if the cover is a reflection of the author’s talents, I expect that David Thomas (the real name of author Tom Cain) is about to skyrocket to new heights.
The Pheasant Plucker by Bill Daly
This book is described as “a compelling blend of humour, political intrigue and romance, with several intricate plot twists which will keep the reader guessing until the final denouement” and perhaps not one generally associated with the Action & Adventure genre. Nevertheless, the publisher (Logan Books) has placed it in that category, and I have fallen in love with its round peg/square hole quirkiness.
The first thing that strikes the prospective reader is the old pheasant plucker rhyme, which never fails to raise, at worst, the tiniest of smiles. Yes, it was funny the first time you heard it and yes, your grandmother would have been shocked to hear it back then, but the title goes beyond that for me. You see, I cannot imagine a single person over the age of 40 not stopping for a least a nanosecond on seeing the title and it is often only a nanosecond that a book seller has to capture attention.
From a purely marketing perspective, this cover’s title is genius and thus deserves an accolade. As to the illustration; it fails to tell the reader what lies within the covers, but I don’t believe that it matters as much in this instance. The title will compel at least a glance at the flip side before either being discarded or tempting the literary palate, and for those past readers of the English Financial Times Weekend Section, the author’s name will tell of the humourous elements promised in the book.
The initial double-take is what makes this cover clever and compelling, and I applaud it.
Weaponized by Nicholas Menuti with David Guggenheim
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Sadly for the publisher (Mulholland Books), they have been far too insular in using the title of this book. Although it might not seem a big issue to readers in the USA, that pesky “Yankee Zee” often sticks in the throats of their cross-Atlantic neighbours and can be a deterrent to many. That’s not to say that it won’t annoy all, but there is the risk that a potential audience has been lost at first glance and merely because of one word.
The illustration immediately led me to believe that cyber crime was the mainstay of this book, but the flip side spiel tells me differently. The main protagonist is fleeing the US Justice Department and ends up in Cambodia, where he agrees to swap passports with a fellow American, as a means of fleeing. Naturally, things are never that simple, and there are Russian oligarchs, Chinese operatives and CIA agents on his tail, with reader reviews giving the impression of an excellent, suspenseful and clever plot-driven read.
Why then does the cover not convey this? Why are we left feeling that Cambodia, China and Russia are merely countries on a computer punch card, and that most of the action will be Washington based? Most importantly, what a shame that many people will not give this book a chance, because the reviews indicate that Menuti and Guggenheim have done a sterling job.
The Lost Throne by Chris Kuzneski
Alright, so I might end up on Penguin’s blacklist for this review, but I found the designer’s over-use of the crossed “Letter O” somewhat passé, especially after looking at all of the author’s offerings. While it has a certain marketing cleverness in it, one look at the range of books also bearing the same lettering soon overwhelms the reader and I had difficulty in seeing each book as an individual. Of course, this might be Penguin’s intent and it certainly promises easy identification for existing Kuzneski fans, but I believe it has the dangerous propensity to eschew new readers.
The illustration is well designed and smacks of sacred ritual and death (which is confirmed upon flipping the book) but I am nevertheless left with the feeling that there is already too much of the same style of cover design gracing the shelves of bookshops. Such a situation could be detrimental to an author who has received high praise from James Patterson nonetheless, and it is the latter who has, I believe, saved this book cover from mediocrity in his front cover endorsement of it.
While I believe that the cover could be far better produced, I suspect that others will like it, so this review is merely the opinion of one person. The selling point for me is Patterson’s front cover endorsement and nothing else. Perhaps in the grand scheme of things, such an endorsement is all that matters.
Watching You by Michael Robotham
When I first laid eyes on this cover, it told me nothing about the previous achievements of the author, whose first psychological thriller “Suspect” sold more than a million copies around the world. Additionally, his second novel “Lost” won the 2005 Ned Kelly Award, as did “Shatter” in 2008. He has also twice been short-listed for the UK Steel dagger!
This author is therefore awesome, but there is nothing to indicate this in what is probably the most predictable artistic depiction of the title Watching You that I could imagine. Had a group of fifteen-year-olds in an art class been asked to design the cover, I would have expected something like this, because those in their mid teens have a lot to learn about marketing, graphic design and engaging a reader. There is however no excuse for this in the real and competitive world of book publishing, and it smacks of a complete lack of respect for the author and his previous accolades.
It annoys me that an author with such talent ends up with a picture of an eye on a book entitled Watching You, and all I can say is that I fervently hope and pray that he never writes something entitled The Sickness or The Secret, because the former would be revolting and the latter merely all black. Do better folks, and pay homage to this author’s talent!