Friday, June 2, 2023

Paperback 1067: The Skull Beneath the Skin / P.D. James (Warner 30606)

Paperback 1067: Warner Books 30-606 (1st ptg, 1983)

Title: The Skull Beneath the Skin
Author: P.D. James
Cover artist: Victor Gadino

Condition: 7/10
Value: $5-10

Best things about this cover:
  • Love how unapologetically literal the cover is. "Look at her skin ... such lovely skin ... but ... uh, oh, what's beneath that skin? Could it be ... a skull!! Bwah ha ha ha open the book, If You Dare!"
  • And the inside cover? So. Much. Happening!
  • This was published much later than most of the books in my collection (which stays mostly in a tight 1939-69 range), but I've begun expanding my range of interest into the '70s and '80s as books that once seemed "too modern" to me now turn out to be fascinating examples of vanishing if not completely bygone book design. This is pure supermarket checkout line stuff, but the stepback keyhole cover—something I would've thought cheesy thirty years ago—now strikes me as bold, theatrical, ornate ... I mean, imagine popular thrillers today looking like *this* instead of, well, like this:
  • I'm also fascinated by the fact that this stepback keyhole treatment isn't for a book by, say, V.C. Andrews (the author most associated with this exact kind of cover)—rather, it's for P.D. James, an extremely literary (and extremely British) mystery writer that I wouldn't have thought ripe for this kind of aggressively popular (populist) marketing. Lawrence Sanders, Stephen King, sure, but P.D. James!? I feel like there's a clash of cover aesthetic and actual content ... and I love it!
  • She really is a great writer. I read the first few pages just now; only meant to pop in and have a glance, but she just grabs you and takes you.
Best things about this back cover:
  • Just blurbs, along the lines of "No, seriously, if you're the kind of person who reads blurbs and want assurances of quality from reputable periodicals, here, look, here's a bunch of them. It's not 'trash,' we swear!"
  • That little hint of illustration there at the bottom right? That's from the delicious (and deliciously wraparound) spinal art! Bring back spinal art! I want my spines to stare sexily at me! Is that too much to ask!?

Page 123~
Cordelia, happily engrossed in old copies of The Illustrated London News and The Strand magazine, in which she could read the Sherlock Holmes stories as they originally appeared, wished that she could have been left in peace. 
Yes, I like this Cordelia. We would get along marvelously, I think. I too like to read old stories as they originally appeared, and don't get me started on being left in peace. Heaven. Call me, Cordelia. We can sit and read and say nothing to each other.


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DemetriosX said...

Keyholes are such a strange marketing tool. Sure, they drive engagement. People pick up the book to see what's behind the cover, and once a book is in their hands, they're more likely to buy it. OTOH, they drive up costs. There's more art, covers have to pass through a stamping machine to make the cutout, and so on. That means more units have to sell to cover the costs, so they wind up on books by big names who would sell huge numbers even if the cover was a plain brown wrapper.

This one's unusual with the interior art going onto the inside cover as well. I don't think I've seen that before, or at least not very often.

Don't worry too much about getting interested in keyholes. It's an unusual and tricky device that takes skill to implement properly. If your interest moves on to embossing and foil, then it's time to worry.

Rex Parker said...

Mmm, foil and embossing ...

For now, only the keyhole interests me, as a design element, though who knows what real old age has in store for me, proclivity-wise ...

Special sauce said...

While I'm not sharing your vibe for the eighties, it's really great having you back.
I really missed your snarky wit and insight. Would appreciate more book cover reviews from the forties, fifties and sixties.
C'mon man, you can't have run out of them !