The many faces of crime fiction

The Two Faces of January, Patricia Highsmith (Pan paperback 1964)

I’m looking forward to the movie adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s, The Two Faces of January, which opens in the UK later this week. Hossein Amini’s film stars Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) alongside Kirsten Dunst.

Though it’s not one of Highsmith’s better-known novels, The Two Faces of January is sure to feature enough glossy European locations (Greece in this case), cool shades and elegant 60s tailoring to keep me happy.

When I unearthed my copy of Highsmith’s novel from a dusty corner of my crime library, I did a double take. It’s a Pan paperback edition from 1964 (the year of publication), on which the famous Pan piper logo has been cruelly decapitated by some overenthusiastic binder. The central image of a woman crushed by a large Greek urn (possibly a spoiler?) is framed by a pair of manacles.

The most baffling element of the cover is this daft quote from some nameless Sunday Times reviewer: “A glittering addition to the meagre ranks of people who make books that you really can’t put down.” As marketing copy goes, it’s not exactly pithy by today’s standards.

The Two Faces of January is not a great example of paperback cover design, but it’s a vast improvement on this 1973 Penguin edition of another Patricia Highsmith novel, Ripley Underground. I’d always associated Penguin paperback crime fiction with those groundbreaking green and black covers, but this effort by Ivan Holmes is just plain ugly. It would only be more laughable if they’d stuck a pair of wobbly eyes on this bearded, Yeti-like figure.

Ripley Underground, Patricia Highsmith, 1973 Penguin edn.

Much more impressive is this Pan edition of Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library from 1959. The silhouetted figure of a woman is about to be strangled by someone hiding behind a wall of books. A scary prospect for bibliophiles everywhere.

Agatha Christie, The Body in the Library, 1959 Pan edn.

I’m going to re-read The Two Faces of January as soon as I’ve seen the film. Unfortunately I won’t be getting to grips with Georges Simenon’s 1971 mystery Maigret Komt Te Laat, as my copy is in Dutch. The language may be unfamiliar, but the distinctive style of cover designer Dick Bruna is well known to fans of superstar rabbit, Miffy.

Maigret Komt te Laat (cover design Dick Bruna)

Pinterest user Dave Dye has collated a whole board of Dick Bruna’s fabulous Maigret covers, all featuring that pipe motif. The publication dates range from the 50s to the 70s, and any one of these would look great on your wall or bookshelf today.

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