A few weeks back, I picked up a free paperback copy of a P.D. James mystery via the UWM English Department’s informal book exchange. I didn’t really pay much attention to the cover of the book (despite my belief that “don’t judge a book by its cover” is a ridiculous aphorism, at least taken literally), but it’s a good thing I wasn’t relying upon the designers’ marketing skills to sell me a copy, because this has to be the lamest, most generic cover design I’ve ever seen:
The typography for the author and title are generic but serviceable…but there’s something about the placement of the promotional quote and “also-by” tag that irritates…maybe because all the text is centered? And I don’t like the “Queen of Crime” tag in the red band – I don’t like the spread-out letter spacing, nor the needless quotation marks, nor the fact that the asterisk indicating the source of the quote is crammed up against the closing quotation mark, defying the spacing of the rest of the text in that red band.
The perspective of the space is just bizarre – either that, or someone hired a German Expressionist carpenter to do the fenestration for the room. We have a generic-looking woman in a minimally-defined room, with what look to be some papers or envelopes and a glass on the edge of the frame. Outside the open window, a man in dark clothing is walking. This only barely even suggests the notion of “mystery” – it would perhaps be more effective if the man were looking toward the woman, but no – he’s apparently caught in the midst of merely passing by her window, and given that the trimming of the foliage in the background implies that there’s a path of sorts he’s walking on, he can’t even be accused of sneaking or lurking. The woman can’t be placed in any clear relation to the papers: are they on a desk? Is she seated, looking off to the side of them? Or is she standing, in the foreground, looking just to our right? And that perspective plays havoc with scale, as well: the room appears to be sunken in relation to the path outside the window, unless the woman is seated and we’re intended to be a dwarf standing nearby.
The quality of the drawing is pretty weak as well: I think they were going for a sort of stylized, clean-lined pulp-fiction look, but instead everyone looks carved from wood, particularly our black-clad, hatted gentleman – who, now that I look more closely, might be just a cardboard cutout, like those promotional statues of Jar-Jar Binks used to sell Star Wars novelizations that were usefully non- flame-retardant (not that I’d actually know that and the statute of limitations has expired anyway).