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Saturday, 23 November 2013

Formulaic book covers. A good thing?

How similar are these collated book covers! We want your feedback!

We have come across a lot of book covers as we do our researches for TripFiction and, as you can imagine, there is a vast, unending, creative array. Some are incredibly original, some are functional, some are plain bad (and we will come back to these another time) and some conform to type; it is this latter category that piqued our interest for this blogpost. It happens time and again that books of a certain genre, set in a specific area of the world will be allocated a certain 'type' of cover. We have picked the thriller genre, invariably set in Eastern Europe/Russia or in cold 'noir' Scandinavia - but shouting thriller, horror and more, and it is amazing how many covers do actually conform to stereotype. The covers are grey/black, the colour red appears somewhere in the type, a solitary figure is in black and there is a very clear vanishing point. And lots of snow, always! So, our question for discussion is this: is this lazy cover design, or is this clever marketing? As a potential book buyer will you think "I know what I am buying and therefore I feel safe in my choice and I am in my comfort zone?"; or might you think: "Here's another cover that is just like all the others, formulaic and dull?" Interestingly, the books are all published by different publishers....

We bring together a few covers to get the discussion going and let me tell you, these are the tip of the iceberg....  Let us know your thoughts below, we would be really interested to hear. 

EUROPE/BALKANS Vlado Petric, former detective in war-torn Sarajevo, has left his beloved homeland to join his wife and daughter in Germany, where he scratches a meagre living among the dust of former conflicts on the building sites of the new Berlin.
Returning home one evening, he finds an enigmatic American investigator waiting for him in the small apartment he now shares with his wife and daughter. The investigator, Calvin Pine, works for the International War Crimes Tribunal, and he tells Petric that they want him to go to The Hague. It doesn't take Petric long to accept, especially when Pine tells him they are after a big fish: one of the men who they think is responsible for the terrible massacre of Srebrenica.

RUSSIA 1920. The Red Terror tightens its hold. Kolya has deserted his Red Army unit and returns home to bury his brother and reunite with his wife and sons. But he finds the village silent and empty. The men have been massacred in the forest. The women and children have disappeared.
In this remote, rural Russian community the folk tales mothers tell their children by candlelight take on powerful significance and the terrifying legend of Koschei, The Deathless One, begins to feel very real. Kolya sets out on a journey through dense, haunting forests and across vast plains as bitter winter sets in, in the desperate hope he will find his wife and two boys, and find them alive. But there are very dark things in Kolya's past. And, as he strives to find his family, there's someone or something on his trail...

RUSSIA The Secret Speech performs this tricky balancing act by taking the reader back to 1949, with Leo the unreformed agent of the state, behaving with the callousness he once possessed before his life was turned upside down. We are then taken to the mid-fifties, after the death of Stalin (as cracks begin to show in the totalitarian Soviet State). Khrushchev’s famous denunciation of the Stalin era ushers in significant changes, and Leo Dormidov (along with his wife Raisa and their daughters) are in danger, as the power of the police is undercut – and, in fact, the police are now identified as enemies of the state. This is only one of the dangers that Leo faces: there is now a ruthless enemy on his trail – as ruthless as Leo was himself in the days of his authority and acclaim.

RUSSIA It is 1939. The world stands on the brink of Armageddon. In the Soviet Union, years of revolution, fear and persecution have left the country unprepared to face the onslaught of Nazi Germany. For the coming battles, Stalin has placed his hopes on a 30-ton steel monster, known to its inventors as the T-34 tank, and, the 'Red Coffin' to those men who will soon be using it.

POLAND/SMOLENSK It is winter, 1943. Bernie Gunther has left the Criminal Police and is working for the German War Crimes Bureau based in Berlin. Reports have been circulating of a mass grave hidden in a wood near Smolensk. The grave's whereabouts are uncertain until, deep in the Katyn Forest, a wolf digs up some human remains. Rumour has it that the grave is full of Polish officers murdered by the Russians - a war crime that is perfect propaganda for Germany. But it needs a detective of subtle skill to investigate this horrific discovery. Cue Bernie Gunther...

Saddleworth Moor, UK which always has a link now to the Moors Murders....Cass is building a new life for herself and her young son Ben after the death of her soldier husband Pete, returning to the village where she lived as a child. But their idyllic new home is not what she expected: the other flats are all empty, there's strange graffiti on the walls, and the villagers are a bit odd. And when an unexpectedly heavy snowstorm maroons the village, things get even harder. 
(this book was kindly suggested by Janet Lambert to add to the list)

Sweden, Uppsala When the mutilated body of tropical fish collector John Jonsson is discovered in Uppsala the police are baffled - he may not have been a saint, but who would want to kill him, and in such a brutal way? Inspector Ann Lindell, working the case, is convinced that the killer has been swiftly identified, but then doubts begin to creep in: what if she's wrong? As increasingly sinister events begin to unfold, and Jonsson's family get further involved, Lindell and her team must unravel the complex clues and stop the killer before it's too late.

Sweden Early one morning in the coldest winter in Swedish memory, police detective Malin Fors is called away from the warm flat she shares with her teenage daughter. The naked body of a man has been found hanging from a tree on the deserted, frozen plain outside the town of Link?ping.
From the outset Malin is confronted with a host of unanswered questions: Who is the dead man? How did he end up in a tree? And where did the strange wounds on his body come from?

Oslo The police urgently need Harry Hole
A killer is stalking Oslo's streets. Police officers are being slain at the scenes of crimes they once investigated, but failed to solve. The murders are brutal, the media reaction hysterical. But this time, Harry can't help anyone
For years, detective Harry Hole has been at the centre of every major criminal investigation in Oslo. His dedication to his job and his brilliant insights have saved the lives of countless people. But now, with those he loves most facing terrible danger, Harry can't protect anyone. Least of all himself.

And another one due out May 2014...

USA, Russia, Afghanistan - Agent 6, the third and final outing for the conflicted former MGB officer, brings the trilogy of novels to a resounding climax. Leo’s new civilian life with his wife Raisa and his family has acquired equilibrium, but the USSR and the US are still bitter enemies. A visit to the states by Leo on a diplomatic mission has a tragic outcome, and Leo loses everything.

This one bucks the genre trend for location, but conforms to type: DORSETIn this house there are many secrets… It is 1965 and young Alexandra Crewe obediently marries the man her father has selected for her. But very soon both she and her husband Laurence realize that their marriage is a disaster. When real love finds Alexandra, plucking her out of her unhappy existence, she is powerless to resist. Her home becomes Fort Stirling, a beautiful Dorset castle, but Alexandra fears that there will be a price to pay for this wonderful new life. When tragedy strikes, it seems that her punishment has come, and there is only one way she can atone for her sins . . . In the present day, Delilah Young is the second wife of John Stirling and the new chatelaine of Fort Stirling. The house seems to be a sad one and Delilah hopes to fill it with life and happiness. But when she attempts to heal the heartbreak in John’s life, it seems that the forces of the past might be too strong for her. 

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We love to hear from you! And please come and add reviews on the TripFiction website - authors everywhere value reviews and so do we!

Tina and the TripFiction Team

1 comment:

  1. Amazing! You have unearthed a trove of copycat covers. Of course, your sample is biased by selecting boreal books, but the point is well taken and well made.

    One of the purposes of adhering to genre conventions is to wave a flag--in this case red--in front of your readers, saying hello to them from a bookshelf or from a page-worth of thumbnail images. It is also reassuring to readers familiar with a genre, a writer, or even a context. Surely, however, the graphic artists behind your examples could have been a skosh more original.

    It's a real challenge when the subject matter is more complex or unconventional than "northern noir" to find a sufficiently seductive way to telegraph the text end ensnare the enthusiast. For _Chipset_, a Homeland Connection techno-thriller set in sunny Madeira, I elected to evoke the tradition of the culture but to juxtapose it with a discordant technocentric image that would cue the would-be buyer: "Things are not as they seem." Within a picturesque rendition of the island done in the traditional blues of azulejo tile, one tile is replaced with a computer microchip. I am proud of the design; it's unique, distinctive; and it still says "mysterious puzzle posed."

    Blues and blacks, set off with splashes of red is a trope for thrillers, but the creative artist can tap into an infinite wellspring of ways to use and defy the tropes at the same time. For the cover of the novella __Avalanche Warning__, a title in red hovers over the rough ice surface of a frozen lake with a dead face, just perceptible, staring up through the ice. It whispers loudly of the dark story inside, an echo of some of Roald Dahl's darker short stories.

    --Larry Constantine (designer and author)