They look just as I had imagined. Battered, dog-eared and damp from decades without love in the HC archive, these books were just begging to be dug out – all featuring fantastic looking covers. They were originally published as part of the Collins Crime Club, the pre-eminent crime imprint for the majority of the 20th century. From an absolute treasure chest, I’ve singled out three gems to look at in more detail.
The first, Roger East’s 1935 classic 25 Sanitary Inspectors, stood out amongst the crowd. The title promises a lot and the cover doesn’t disappoint. Set in San Rocco, a little known West Indian republic, the novel sees the murder of wealthy financier Pero Zaragoza. Having no police force to investigate, a team of sanitary inspectors are called in. Vivid and striking, the cover depicts the eponymous moustachioed investigators, going about their dirty work, marching in sync and aptly capturing the idiosyncratic, fascinating plot.
E.C.R.Lorac’s 1938 Black Beadle, meanwhile, takes a far darker approach. Using just yellow and grey, it shows a sinister, lugubrious-looking figure holding a cane and looking over a skeleton and an open book. With such a startling cover, I defy anyone not to want to take a look within. A gripping murder mystery, featuring Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector MacDonald, the cover inventively conveys that a labyrinthine, sinister plot awaits the reader. And is bang on the mark.
Unusual for the time, John Rhode’s 1938 novel Invisible Weapons takes a photographic approach, portraying an isolated figure whose face is convulsing with terror, his hands held up close to his face. This perfectly encapsulates the plot’s central foundation – the murder of Fransham at his niece’s house whilst, importantly, washing his hands. This, illustrated on the cover, becomes one of the most difficult cases Scotland Yard had ever faced. And the plot is one which will perennially delight readers in its well-crafted complexity.
What strikes you about these books is the immediacy with which the covers convey the overwhelming tone of each book, offering you a direct and exciting snapshot into what their contents have to offer. And in an age where Photoshop reigns supreme it’s refreshing and satisfying to dig out covers of such illustrative quality. Let’s hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of the Collins Crime Club…