Murder by the Book: The Many Covers of Agatha Christie

I’ve been an Agatha Christie fan since I was a young boy. One of the primary reasons I was drawn to Christie’s novels was for the fantastic cover art, which easily snags the eye and fires up the imagination.

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In recent years, as part of our Book Club of Two, my mom and I have been reading the Hercule Poirot novels in order, and in doing so I’ve found myself awash in all those murderous old covers once again. And it occurs to me that, if I had to lay down my money, I’d say no other author has been blessed with better covers than Dame Agatha.

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It certainly helps that Christie has been continually in print since the publication of her first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920. That’s 96 years of publication, and every one of her books remains in print today. Christie sells some 500,000 copies each year in Britain alone. Her worldwide sales are staggering.

So, there’s lots of opportunity to try various approaches to her work.

It also doesn’t hurt that so many of her titles are immediate, vivid, and inventive (let’s leave aside the few duds like Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and The Clocks, which are serious snoozefest titles).

  • Sparkling Cyanide
  • Evil Under the Sun
  • Death in the Clouds
  • A Murder is Announced
  • Crooked House

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What is perhaps surprising is the juxtaposition between Christie’s actual stories, which are generally free from graphic violence and rather light on real bloodshed, and the covers which wrap her tales of murder and investigation. Over the years, Christie’s covers have included any number of guns, knives, hypodermic needles, splattered blood, skulls, occult imagery, and dead bodies.

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From the very beginning, though, Christie’s covers were marked by a level of ingenuity, so that even the simplest covers conveyed a sense of ominous mystery. They were the kind of covers you looked at and immediately wanted to know what happened.

Cover art is an ever-changing field, a fact that is most notable in authors who have long, long careers (the differences in the 1970’s covers of Stephen King’s novels and his more recent work are quite telling). christie 12christie 5Book covers reflect not only the author and the book, but the culture and the climate at a given time. Clearly, there are different eras at work here when we compare these two covers:

The cover on the right, sadly, comes from the one period of Christie’s publishing history in which her covers took a noticeable dive. This 1990’s era cover art ditched more or less everything that made Christie’s covers fantastic and replaced them with simple block colors (often white), single emblems (usually a bust outline of Poirot) and Christie’s name in block lettering. I know…who farted, right?

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Luckily, after a decade or more of such drivel, Christie’s publishers decided to take the cover art in a new direction. Today’s editions are sharp, bold and inventive once again, harking back to earlier eras when the world’s bestselling author also had the best artwork on the stacks.

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Interested in more cover art?

Check out The Many Covers of John Irving and see how early on in his career, Irving’s covers were quite a bit different from what you see today.

Also, feel free to check out my own book covers on the Fiction page. My collections The Other Side of the Door and Stranger Calls are full of award-winning dark short stories, available in both ebook and paperback now.

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