Friday, June 20, 2008

Ngaio Marsh cover story

The recent post on regarding cover art and how it can not only seem a surprising choice for a particular author but also vary greatly between editions, made me take a look at my collection of Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh titles. Both authors have been reprinted many times over the last 80+ years. The contents of the books haven't altered, but it's interesting to see how the style and quality of the covers have changed.

Overture to Death was first published in 1939. The cover above is a 1944 Collins (UK) White Circle Pocket Novel paperback, printed in Australia on cheap wartime paper. There's no reference to the cover designer. It's one of my favourite Marsh covers; simple yet menacing. The Woods' Great Peppermint Cure ("For coughs and colds, never fails!") advertisement on the back adds an extra point of interest.

Surfeit of Lampreys was first published in 1941, and is incidentally my favourite Marsh work. The cover above is the classic green and white Penguin cover (it's a 1955 paperback edition). Again, a very simple look, but it works. As does the colour combination, for a different reason: the spines are easy to spot in secondhand bookstores.

Death at the Dolphin was first published in 1967. The cover above is the dust jacket from the Collins Book Club (UK) edition of the same year. The only clue to the artist's identity are the initials G.C. in one corner. This cover shows much more blatantly than the first two that the book is a mystery title. I don't like this cover, apart from that nicely shaped skull. The images of the corpse, skull and two masks seem to have simply been cut and pasted on.

One of Marsh's many Fontana paperback editions. Enter a Murderer was first published in 1935. The cover above is a 1968 edition. It features a photograph instead of a painting or drawing, which is one of my pet hates for cover art, especially when it looks as fake as this. When I read a book I know it's a work of fiction, but I don't need to be confronted with something like this. Definitely a step back from the simple Penguin days.

False Scent was first published in 1960. The cover shown is a 1975 paperback impression. It's another Fontana (UK) publication, with cover art by Philip Hood. Hood did a number of Fontana covers for Marsh titles. He didn't match the style and originality of Tom Adams, Agatha Christie's paperback cover artist at Fontana, but he still produced interesting artworks. I like the layout of this cover, with the author name and the book title neatly boxed up the top, letting the cover tell its story.

Artists in Crime was first published in 1938. The cover above is the 1987 impression. Another Fontana paperback cover, and one of the more recent ones. Compared to the earlier paperbacks pictured, this is positively boring. There's no class to it, and I think that's what's missing.


Peter Rozovsky said...

This could be a museum exhibit. The two that caught my eye first were the cover for Overture to Death and False Scent. The first is sinple but menacing, as you said, and it also might indude in readers today a nostalgia for modernism. The False Scent cover does a nice job of rendering the chaos of a murder scene.

I don't think the Artists in Crime cover is quite as bad as you do. If you gave it a D-, I might give it a D.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Chocolate Cobwebs said...

I was hoping to be able to show a selection of covers for the same Marsh title, but unfortunately my collection doesn't stretch that far (yet!).

Vanda Symon said...

I've linked to this post from my blog as Ngaio Marsh is a local girl, and we New Zealanders are kind of proud of her.

I'm working hard on my collection of Ngaio Marsh titles, and have been surprised by the huge variation in quality and design of the covers. Some are terrific, some truly awful.

Godwit recently published a book called 'Coverup : The Art of the Book Cover in New Zealand'by Hamish Thompson. It's a great representation of some of the best cover art produced here. It's one of those books I keep picking back up, perusing and looking, and now I find myself looking for the books mentioned when I'm out trolling the secondhand book stores for Ngaio Marsh titles.

Philip said...

I must say I rather covet the 1944 Overture to Death, and for a reason alluded to by Peter -- it is very much in the Art Deco vein and at a late date, the latter likely attibutable to the interruption in artistic development resulting from the War rather than any deliberate harking back, and that makes it all the more interesting. This is fascinating stuff for which I thank you.

Chocolate Cobwebs said...

She's definitely someone to be proud of, Vanda! I have read Christie since I was a teenager, but have only discovered Marsh quite recently. I'm interested in reading one of the mysteries she wrote that was actually set in NZ.

Glad you like my copy of 'Overture to Death', Philip! It is definitely a much admired part of my collection. I haven't seen another like it yet.