(Cover photograph by Peter Laurie.)
This is one of my favourite paperback covers of all time.
A scan of it was posted on Mounds & Circles earlier this year, and it provoked a certain amount of interest when I reblogged it on my Tumblr. Now, finally, I can post it here whilst observing my self-imposed book-blogging rules, as the image above is my own scan, taken from my own recently acquired copy.
So, anyway, yeah - I love this cover. Such a simple piece of design work, but also daring, unconventional, mesmerising. A bit of really sinister aesthetic beauty.
I love the fact that whilst ostensibly this is a cover focusing on the quintessential pulp image of a naked woman with a gun, the framing of Peter Laurie’s photograph rejects any sexual or exploitative interpretation. Instead, there is a certain ‘matter of fact’-ness about the photo – the detail of the model’s toes and her short, cropped hair, the German Luger and the crumpled, monochrome bed sheet – that is startling; about as distant from the old Robert McGinnis style paperback dame as you could possibly get. There is something fascinating and deeply unnerving about her shiny skin and strangely proportioned limbs, the invisibility of her facial features. She looks like a posed mannequin; the erotic implication of her nakedness is completely derailed, given a one-way ticket to uncanny valley. Unheimlich to the max. If Penguin in the ‘60s were looking for any one image to say ‘this is not your father’s crime story’, this is it.
In more prosaic terms, I also like the title, and the fact that the author’s name is only one letter different from my one of my own illustrious ancestors.
As to the book itself, well I’m unfamiliar with the work of William Haggard and the synopsis doesn’t exactly sound too thrilling, but I’ve got a soft spot for grim espionage tales and sinister goings on beneath Whitehall, so ya never know. Is Haggard just another forgotten spy hack, or could he be swinging somewhere toward the Le Carre / Eric Ambler end of the scale..? Only one way to find out – wish me luck, I’m hitting chapter # 1 this evening.