Judging A Book By Its Cover

Bryant and May

Hall of Mirrors - Inside View Rough Sketch

The new Bryant & May novel, ‘Hall Of Mirrors’, is getting ready to go to print, and almost has a cover. I say ‘almost’ because we’ve been through a lot of styles to find the right image, for two reasons; first, we have Max Schindler back on the art (he joined us at ‘Bryant & May: London’s Glory’), and he works from detailed sketches. He’s our fourth artist in the books. Second, this one is set in the swinging sixties, and therefore Bryant & May are younger and need a different look.

Now, those with long memories (or those who’ve just discovered Bryant & May and insisted on starting with the first book, ‘Full Dark House’, as many do) will know that our venerable, vulnerable detectives are ageing strangely. If they were in their twenties during the Blitz how can they still be in their twenties in the 1960s?

I’ve explained that by having their adventures based on Arthur Bryant’s memoirs, which bring a new meaning to the term ‘unreliable’. This allows me to stretch and flex the tales to suit the way Arthur would like them to be, and as he considers truth to have nothing to do with honesty, I have some room to manoeuvre.

Hall of Mirrors

The first attempt at a cover was rather fun; the idea was to freeze frame a moment from the book to give it more action. This would have meant repainting all the covers to match, and my publisher is far too stingy to do that. The other problem is that interiors on book covers can look a little claustrophobic.

The second attempt had the detectives at the gates of the country house, but looked overly symmetrical and a bit twee. The final version will take the same scene at an angle to include a couple of other key elements. The scene will be changed to night to allow for some explosions (obviously!)


The UK covers carry a complex semiotic signal; they echo old British railway poster layouts, even using the old railway company sans-serif typeface, but also have the styling of Golden Age thrillers and perhaps a touch of London Underground posters. The American covers will now keep the UK art but with their own typeface and the addition of a little signpost (below). The book after this will see our heroes back to their correct ageless ages in the 21st century.


14 comments on “Judging A Book By Its Cover”

  1. Peter Tromans says:

    Who would object to a rallentation of the aging process?

    In the interior picture, Mr May resembles a young Roger Moore, which is fine. Thankfully, Mr Bryant shows no tendency toward Tony Curtis.

  2. Stephen Morris says:

    Hi Chris,Hall Of Mirrors is one of two novels I’m looking forward to the most next year.

  3. Brooke says:

    It has not escaped the attention of US B&M readers, well, maybe just this US reader, that recent B&M covers echo those of the Emily Brightwell series, of which we are not a fan. Nor do we understand the need for a little sign post; I have the UK edition of “Wild Chamber” and find the cover layout much more pleasing without it. Arthur becomes the focal point, there is a clear demarcation between illustration and text, and the text expands to catch the eye.

    Max Schindler’s cover illustration for “London’s Glory” is quite nice. With Keith Page’s drawing included it’s a great hard cover addition to the collection. The ebook (hard cover only available from resellers) does not have the same cover; much more stripped down.

    US cover illustrations is an item on my agenda for your publishers. under the bullet point: “Increasing US sales.”

    In defense of Arthur, while his memory may be “unreliable,” he is on the side of truth. Given any event, whose version would you believe, Arthur’s or Boris Johnson’s?

  4. admin says:

    Don’t get me started on Boris ‘The Malignant Potato’ Johnson. I’ve not heard of Ms Brightwell; I will investigate. We do not understand the need of a signpost either. UK book cover design took a great leap forward about two years ago. I think ebook sales concentrated their minds.

  5. Jo W says:

    Ah,the new B&M-Hall of Mirrors, something worth looking into. 😉

  6. admin says:

    Seven years’ bad luck, Jo!

  7. Richard Burton says:

    The second one is very Morecombe and Wise! If Wise had been a bit taller. The cover for England’s Glory was superb, so I’m looking forward to this one. We always got told to reference the story when we were doing covers at art school; but I secretly liked the way Chris Foss SF covers never did. Later on I found out he just drew what he felt like, usually a space ship based on a tropical fish or something.

  8. Jo W says:

    Too late for the seven years bad luck,Chris, I’ve been married to ‘im indoors for forty six!! Boom boom! 😉

  9. DC says:

    One of the few (depending on your own perspective) downsides of e-books is the reduced importance of a cover art. Possibly more so true of album art.There are many albums and books I have bought, purely because I liked the picture on the front. I am not aware of this being quite such a driver for my decision to purchase the more “ephemeral” digital media.

    I don’t think a 3x2cm image on a web page has the same impact as a book or LP cover.

  10. Ian Luck says:

    The second illustration made me think of Gilbert and George, for some weird reason. No, I have no idea why, either.

  11. Matt says:

    I simply love the cover art and the way they feel too. I have all the books now in Hardback edition replacing all the worn-out Paperbacks with the Hardback editions. They aren’t easy to find on the high street so I have found them mainly on the inter web.

    It so exciting seeing the development process of the covers on your Blog. Thank you for being so hands on with your fans. Can’t wait for the Hall of Mirrors.

  12. Helen Martin says:

    Interesting that the British typeface is thinner than the American (Usian) one. I prefer the American ampersand, though.

  13. Ian Luck says:

    Peter Tromans – I just looked at your entry above, and realised that it was a reference to the glossy ‘throw wads of cash at it’ ITC show, ‘The Persuaders!’ I adored that show as a kid – watching it recently, it’s obvious that it’s basically two middle aged blokes pricking about in beautiful locations, dashing about in horrendously expensive cars, in a kind of proto Jeremy Clarkson way (although the episode where someone is bumping off Roger Moore’s character, Brett Sinclair’s relatives is a corker). And it has one of John Barry’s best tunes for it’s theme music, beautifully gloomy. A strange thing about those ITC shows – no matter if the programme itself was shit, the theme tune would still be excellent.

  14. admin says:

    I can’t say I’m fond of the US ‘potato print’ typeface…

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