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Black, White and Red: The Key to Crime Covers

By Maisie Jane Garvin, Juliette Tulloch, Beccy Fish and Giulia Caparrelli


Crime is one of the most popular genres of fiction. From Golden Age detective works by Christie and Conan Doyle, to recent Sunday Times Bestsellers like the works of Richard Osman or Gillian Flynn, it is an ever-adapting genre. What seems to be lacking in change, however, is the front cover of these novels. In this issue, we investigate the often-repeated design, word choice or colours of crime fiction novels.


The Tuesday Club Murders by Agatha Christie


The Tuesday Club Murders by crime queen Agatha Christie is a classic work of detective fiction. This special hardback edition by HarperCollins was only published recently: it was released in September of this year. It seems that this new publication is using its cover to jump on the trends set by recent crime novels that have done well in the charts. The deep, maroon patterned background for this edition adds a sophisticated twist to the blood red seen so often on other crime covers. The specific font and use of capital letters for both the novel’s title and the author’s name are particularly eye-catching and arguably, are the main feature of the cover, since the illustration at the bottom of the page is small. This design is not too dissimilar from the immensely popular cover of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, and ironically converted to this US title very recently.


The Appeal by Janice Hallett


Described by The Times as the “Agatha Christie for the 21st century,” Janice Hallett published her debut novel, The Appeal, in 2021 with Profile Books. Falling within the cosy crime subgenre, whose recent rise in popularity was driven by the huge success of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, The Appeal presents an interactive, whodunnit story where the reader is invited to participate and solve the mystery. The cover design is simple, yet effective in positioning the book within its genre and attracting readers with its call to action: “can you uncover the truth?” The colours follow the traditional palette: black, white and red to evoke images of blood – also graphically splattered on the cover – and old newspaper columns denouncing murders in big capital letters. The sketch of the village conveys the idea of a cosy crime novel, in which a small, close-knit community is disrupted by a terrible crime and brought together in the investigation. The current appetite for such stories might lie in the sense of resolution found when the mystery is revealed.


The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood


The Marlow Murder Club follows Judith, Suzie and Becks, an unlikely trio that explores the threat of a killer after the police fails to believe Judith’s story. Our protagonist, Judith, is a seventy-seven-year-old who likes puzzles. But with three murders and three suspects, this is the hardest one Judith will have to face. The cover’s three key colours create a statement as to what genre The Marlow Murder Club belongs to. The striking red covers the majority of the cover, creating the silhouette of Judith’s mansion where the anticipated finale takes place. It offers a bold contrast against the light background and complements the crossword embedded in the house in reference to Judith’s love for them. The handwritten typography within the crossword symbolises Judith’s attempt to personally solve the mystery. In addition, the black font, distinctive against the bright red, as well as the character outlined in the centre, increase the depth of the image. The red and black are as ever present to represent the blood and darkness ingrained in the genre and following the success of Richard Osman’s and Agatha Christie’s works, the title similarly contains the nouns “murder” and “club.”


Murder at the National Gallery by Jim Eldridge


Bestselling crime novelist Jim Eldridge is back with the seventh instalment of his Murder Mysteries series, Murder at the National Gallery, published in July of next year by Allison & Busby. Scotland Yard detective Daniel Wilson and archaeologist Abigail Fenton are contacted by the gallery’s curator to investigate the sudden killing of a model. Like all of his novels, the title capitalises murder and plays around with contrasting typography, as well as the colours red, blue and white. The Victorian typeface is known for its curves, waves, shadows and outlines, and it is refreshing to see a front cover that pays homage to the era in such detail. The addition of the silhouettes and subtle shading creates a dark yet bold front cover, which echoes the mysterious era of Jack the Ripper’s killing spree. If you cannot wait until July, some of Eldridge’s currently available books include the popular Murder at the Ashmolean and Murder at the Manchester Museum.


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