Tom Adams is one of the most accomplished cover artists of the past 50 years. He’s better known for his long-running series of Agatha Christie book covers, but my favourites are the ones he did for the works of Raymond Chandler. These were the 1971 series of paperbacks from Ballantine Books. If Vintage Books (the current Chandler publisher) were to re-release these as oversized trade paperbacks, I’d buy the whole set.
You can visit Tom Adams’ site.
The covers are so striking, you can momentarily forget that they wrap some pretty good books. Chandler is one of my favourite authors.
“Chandler wrote like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence.” – Ross MacDonald
Chandler wrote detective fiction, and after a number of short stories published in the pulps introduced Philip Marlowe, private investigator, in his first novel The Big Sleep. In the series of novels that followed, we journey with Marlowe through Los Angeles in the Forties and Fifties.
I’ll refrain from telling you too much. Chandler is best experienced. What I will say is that Chandler didn’t give a damn about plot. The magic is in the characters, dialogue and moments.
My favourite book in the series to read is Farewell, My Lovely. Of Adams’ covers, Trouble is My Business followed by The Big Sleep. And the passage that grips me every time I read it is the second-to-last paragraph in The Big Sleep :
“What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now. Far more a part of it than Rusty Regan was. But the old man didn’t have to be. He could lie quiet in his canopied bed, with his bloodless hands folded on the sheet, waiting. His heart was a brief uncertain murmur. His thoughts were as gray as ashes. And in a little while he too, like Rusty Regan, would be sleeping the big sleep.”
There are two followups to this post :
The first is about the book The Great Detectives, written by Julian Symons and illustrated by Adams. It has a section devoted to Philip Marlowe.
The second is some of my typographic exploration with Adams’ The Lady in the Lake cover.