Penguin has always had a talent for simple, classic design. My coffee mug shelf is testament to that, filled as it is with porcelain decorated with the vintage, striped designs with different colours denoting the various genres - green for crime.
The silver-spined classics also work very well - particularly the Ian Fleming Bond originals with their arresting black-and-white stills from the films. These books in particular have always made me question whether my adherence to alphabetic shelves shouldn't be surrendered to a more stylistic theme. (These are the things I worry about...)
So I was not surprised recently - but thrilled nonetheless - to receive repubished classics: The Underground Man by Ross MacDonald and Miami Blues by Charles Willeford. First off, these are both brilliant five-star novels, truly deserving of the "Modern Classics" tag (small reviews below) and it is great news for crime devotees that series of these novels have been
Just as arresting, however, are their glorious covers, each cleverly capturing some of the essence of the novel. I'll let the designs speak for themselves in the images below, except to give the attribution to Edward Bettison Design & Art Direction in Brighton, who did a masterful job on these covers and explain something of the attribution for each series: Willeford, MacDonald.
Miami Blues by Charles Willeford
If your view of Florida's flagship glamour city remains shaped by Don Johnson's extravagant collection of speedboats and sportscars, Willeford will debunk it quickly enough. Away from the pastel t-shirts is a dark and dirty world of drugs, gangsters, prostitution and an avaricious attitude to life. Into this unwholesome environment steps Freddy Frenger, straight out of a California jail and keen to earn someone else's living in a new City. His first act in Miami - before even leaving baggage collection - is to break the finger of a Hare Krishna, who then dies of shock.
As Miami detective Hoke Moseley settles into a lengthy and difficult investigation, Frenger sets about a vicious and cruel yet shockingly casual crime spree throughout a City with a truly dark underside - perhaps all the seedier because of the contrast with the Sunshine State image.
Miami Blues is a truly outstanding crime novel: understated and spare in its writing, unhurried and yet powerful in the narrative, splendid, rounded characters and with a blunt approach that is often disarming. It's also very funny in parts. Totally compelling I'd never heard of Willeford until this novel arrived in the post, but I'll be seeking out the rest of the series and filling this gap in my education.
The Underground Man by Ross MacDonald
Given I hadn't read The Underground Man, my personal worry is well-founded. And, unlike Willeford, I had heard of Ross MacDonald. Indeed, I'd even had a recommendation to read it from Michael Connelly when I interviewed him for the FT Magazine in 2004, and he named The Underground Man as one of five novels "On The Shelf", as that part of the feature was called. (I've read all the others: The Choir Boys by Joseph Wambaugh; A Morning for Flamingoes by James Lee Burke; Red Dragon by Thomas Harris and The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler).
Connelly, author of the Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller series of novels set in LA, where The Underground Man is also set, said this about MacDonald in the FT: "His running theme is about how the past informs the present, reaches out of the ground and grabs and trips you. That's a theme in several of my books."
In The Underground Man, MacDonald's PI Lew Archer finds himself dragged through several families dangerous and destructive past when he accepts the task of finding an abducted child following a chance encounter with the boy on his lawn.
This is a flawless novel of human greed and weakness with a plot that unfolds with the same air of menace and danger as the forest fire that rages in the background as the desperate search for the boy unfolds. Archer is one of the best drawn characters in crime fiction, brought alive by MacDonald's gift for incisive and often witty dialogue. Brilliant.