Raymond Chandler Covers by Tom Adams

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.”

Trouble is My Business by Raymond Chandler, Cover by Tom Adams

Trouble is My Business

Pickup on Noon Street by Raymond Chandler, Cover by Tom Adams

Pickup on Noon Street

Killer in the Rain by Raymond Chandler, Cover by Tom Adams

Killer in the Rain

The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler, Cover by Tom Adams

The Simple Art of Murder

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, Cover by Tom Adams

The Big Sleep

Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler, Cover by Tom Adams

Farewell, My Lovely

The High Window by Raymond Chandler, Cover by Tom Adams

The High Window

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler, Cover by Tom Adams

The Lady in the Lake

The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler, Cover by Tom Adams

The Little Sister

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, Cover by Tom Adams

The Long Goodbye

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.

Scott Dutton

Scott Dutton is an art director, designer and illustrator whose career bridges digital and print in marketing, branding and publishing
  1. David Spanswick left a comment on January 26, 2009 at 1:35 am

    Excellent, never seen these before.

  2. Lauralee left a comment on September 13, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Wow Scott, this is such a beautiful collection. Now I will have to start finding copies for myself. Wowzers!

  3. Robert Hunt left a comment on October 15, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    These were the covers that first introduced me to Chandler, whose books have never had such handsome editions since. Adams also did the cover for Lou Reed’s first post-Velvets album at around the same time.

  4. Robert Zverina left a comment on October 15, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Love that Raymond. Today in Prague I found three early stories in new bilingual Czech/English editions. Can’t think of a more enjoyable way to improve my Czech.

    A little tribute: http://www.zverina.com/2009/0918.htm

    Another fave book designer–Barbara Martin’s Black Sparrow Bukowski covers: http://www.zverina.com/2003/0122.htm

    • Scott Dutton left a comment on October 15, 2009 at 4:29 pm

      I couldn’t agree more with the comments on your tribute page. Chandler is about the journey.

  5. Links: Rod and Reel « Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes left a comment on October 23, 2009 at 4:04 am

    […] gallery of Tom Adams‘ curious paperback covers for Raymond Chandler […]

  6. Will @ A Journey Round My Skull left a comment on November 3, 2009 at 2:11 pm


    You might get a kick out of the Swedish Chandler cover in an old post on my blog:

    @ Robert Hunt — when I first saw these, I wondered why they felt familiar, and it’s because of the Reed lp cover.

    • Scott Dutton left a comment on November 3, 2009 at 8:54 pm

      The Swedish cover is great. Very appropriate.

      Yeah, Adams did do a Lou Reed cover. Nice stuff.

      Thanks for sharing.

  7. Richard Robinson left a comment on January 28, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    What a treat. I read and “discovered” Chandler around 1982, and the paperbacks I bought then had these covers. I have always thought they fit the contents very well indeed, captured the complex ferocity and beauty of Marlowe’s world.

    Thanks for this post, I hope it will remain available for many others to discover. I’ve linked it from my blog in today’s post.

  8. The Joy of Discovery « The Broken Bullhorn left a comment on January 28, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    […] Then a friend of mine told me about a book I just HAD to try. An absolute must, he said, even if I did usually read Christie, et al. It had an odd title, but I got a copy and read it, while on vacation, lying on a beach in Mexico, as a matter of fact. The title? The Simple Art of Murder. with that great Tom Adams cover. The ground shook, the sky cracked open, I had a Joy of Discovery moment unlike any other since Tolkien. Raymond Chandler’s writing and plots hit me like an exploding light bulb. I bought and read every Chandler short story I could lay hands on. When those were gone, I went looking for the novels. (For more of the great covers painted by Adams, see here) […]

  9. Richard von Busack left a comment on March 5, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    I’m always on the lookout for these! I’m so glad you put these up here. Incredibly evocative, damn near cried seeing them again. Take good care of ’em.

  10. Donald Tilston left a comment on March 16, 2010 at 5:48 am

    Beautifully produced pictures. I notice Playback is missing – did he do a cover for this?

    • Scott Dutton left a comment on March 16, 2010 at 8:56 pm

      As far as I know, no, he did not. I believe the first Ballantine paperback edition of Playback was part of the next series, from 1973.

  11. james left a comment on May 4, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Hi thanks for posting those great covers – never seen them before. Amazing. Have been a Chandler fan forever. Studied Film noir at Ameherst as an exchange student from the UK. Best course I ever did. Cheers!

  12. Sparky Santos left a comment on February 11, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    Thanks for the scans

  13. Rocke left a comment on April 24, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    thanks bunches, scott, for assembling this collection. i just recently began reading the marlowe series… my only relation to raymond chandler up until recently has been when i’d occasionally make the mistake of confusing him with raymond carver–whom i’ve read a great deal of. anyway….it didn’t take long before i discovered these amazing editions with this truly groovy cover art–which now know is by tom adams. i just wanted to thank you for compiling this cyber-homage to this dynamic duo. i also wanted to ask you–since, in my efforts to began acquiring all of the tom adams edition, i’ve already been sent the wrong edition on two occasions–what are some of the ways i can ensure that i’m going to receive the right edition from an online seller? i know the basics: ballantine is the publisher, i even know that these are canadian releases, but that info typically isn’t included in a posting on a bookseller site. any advice for me, mr. dutton? ps…you aren’t, by some off chance, related to professor doug dutton, are you? haha!! thanks much, man. -rocke

    • Scott Dutton left a comment on April 24, 2013 at 8:44 pm

      My pleasure.

    • Scott Dutton left a comment on April 24, 2013 at 8:27 pm

      Hi Rocke –

      Yes, most of the copies I have are for the Canadian market, but they were available both in Canada and the US in identical formats. They are Ballantine editions with covers by Tom Adams. That should be enough for you to find them.

      If sellers don’t show you the cover, don’t buy it has been my experience. Ask questions and get a scan/digital photo before committing to purchase.

      Glad you liked the post.

      – Scott

      • Rocke left a comment on April 24, 2013 at 8:34 pm

        i like the post a whole lot, man.
        thanks again for yer time & efforts.

  14. Tom Williams left a comment on June 19, 2013 at 8:00 am

    […] One of the most iconic must be that by Tom Adams, a designer who also worked on Agatha Christie’s books. His 1971 The Big Sleep cover is striking to say the least. […]

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