Thursday, 2 February 2012

Lew Archer: New, Newish and Old

The Lew Archer novels of Ross Macdonald are some of the best private-eye novels written, forming a sort of gumshoe Holy Trinity with Hammett and Chandler. Penguin UK have snaffled some of them for their Modern Classics range (to go with some other surprising but welcome crime-writing additions to that series), and have employed Edward Bettison to do the cover designs, with more than a hint of a stylish late-'50s, early-'60s vibe.

It's a pity the excellent Black Money isn't part of the set.

I'm also rather partial to the current US covers for the Archer books, put out by Vintage US/Black Lizard, which do a great job of playing up the noir aspects of their atmosphere.

All of these are quite a step away from the skin/boob-tastic covers inflicted on the books by Fontana at the tail end of the 1970s.

That last cover troubles me: is the target trapped under a breast? Between the cheeks of an incredibly lopsided arse? Clutched under a bingo wing?


claire said...

Ugh, those 1970s covers are *heinous* (I'm putting my money on 'underboob' for the last one), and agreed that the current US ones are excellent. Haven't read any Lew Archer novels, I shall hunt one out!

Levi Stahl said...

God, I love these novels.

The current Black Lizard covers are really sharp. In the 1990s, when they first started reprinting the series, they created what were at the time som solid designs: blocks of color framing photos of people in 1940s attire looking noirish. The mistake was shooting those photos in color: because our collective memory of all noir--through the 1950s, even--is in B&W, color photos can't help but look like glam shots taken at a shopping mall photo studio. You can't take them seriously, and those covers dated remarkably quickly.

The problem is that the Macdonald portion of my shelves now is a jumble of those designs and the current ones. Alas.

JRSM said...

Yes, my Macdonalds are a mess, too-and the Penguins will make that worse! Your point about the colour images is a good one, and explains why the images didn't work well. Wisely, I see Black Lizard's Jim Thompsons went with monochrome photos.

Claire: You'll not be disappointed--unless you expect something as trashy as those 1970s covers suggest...

Jonathan Walker said...

A lot of the Macdonald titles were out of print in the 80s and early 90s, so my collection included a mixture of editions: several of the terrible Fontana covers, picked up in second-hand shops, but also several recent editions at the time from Allison & Busby, in an edition with sort of quasi-abstract covers, or treated photographic fragments?

matthew. said...

MacDonald's novels are so aggressively nihilistic. I'm afraid the lurid skin covers do not do the novels any justice