Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dalys Doubled: Elizabeth Daly Crime Covers

I have read about half the crime novels of Elizabeth Daly (an American crime writer primarily of the 1940s whom Agatha Christie greatly enjoyed), and enjoyed most of them. She is one of the fortunate past mystery masters whose works are being reprinted by Felony & Mayhem, a fine mystery press. I reviewed Daly's Night Walk (1947) here.

Before Felony & Mayhem came along, however, Bantam reprinted Daly in a nice paperback series in the 1980s. Crime novel covers in the 1970s and 1980s could be so ticky-tacky or just plain boring.

Take these seventies Ruth Rendell paperbacks (please!):


I'm guessing Rendell didn't think much of these covers--and she probably bristled at the declaration that she was following "in the grand tradition of Agatha Christie" (they used to say the same thing about P. D. James too).

However, back when I first got these books below on the used market in the 1990s I thought Bantam did a great job with the Daly covers, commissioned from artist Dennis Ziemienski (here is his website, if you want to see what he's doing currently):



The ghostly figure in the old-fashioned dress and sunbonnet has appealed not only to readers but to book illustrators ever since Evidence of Things Seen was originally published seventy-one years ago, as you can see below, right up to the recent Felony & Mayhem version (although there was a bit of an aberration in the mod sixties--though I suppose that could be the ghost's eye):





Happily Daly has been favored by paperback publishers over the years, because Daly hardcovers are hard to find!

13 comments:

  1. I've read all of them - I think there are 16 - and her books range from very good to amazing. If you haven't read "Book of the Dead," I recommend it heartily - incredibly good (and fair, I think) misdirection leads to a breathtaking scene where she really pulls the rug out from under you. It's one of the ones reprinted by Felony & Mayhem.

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  2. Oh, no, another author added to the "must read" list!

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    1. Fortunately, most of them have been reprinted by Felony & Mayhem.

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    2. But those old pb editions from the 1980s are nice, if you can still find them!

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  3. "In the Grand Tradition of Agatha Christie" Oh, man! Remember when almost *every* new woman mystery writer was compared to Christie or Sayers? It got to be a routine marketing tool in the late 70s and early 80s. I remember seeing the comparison on books by Shelia Radley and Antonia Fraser and being gravely disappointed as a teen when I read their books only to discover they were nothing like Agatha's. Eventually everyone was compared to Rendell and James! And that's still going on, isn't it?

    BTW - Vanity Dies Hard? Never heard of that Rendell book. Than I noticed in miniscule print that the original title is IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH. I thought that retitling practice died out in the 1950s.

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    1. Yeah, John, they were still calling it that in the States in the 1980s (I don't believe it'sin print now). What a cover, is the poor woman supposed to be trapped in Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory?

      I think one reason Rendell and James can be kind of uncharitable to Christie sometimes is that they must have gotten awfully tired of being said to be the "new Christies."

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  4. I read the first book in this series several years ago and it was OK without making me anxious to read the rest. I do have access to them and perhaps I should give her another chance. Since Les gives such a ringing endorsement to "Book of the Dead" I'll try that one but there are so many things I wish to read I can't say when it might happen.
    So many books, so little time.

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    1. Ron, honest, I didn't think the whole series began to gel until about the fourth book.

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  5. I agree that the Deco-ish Bantam covers (the 1980s editions) are beautiful and attractive; they entice people to read the books. The early Bantams are muddy and ugly, to my eye. I've always had a soft spot for the Berkley Medallion editions from the 1960s. This was the period when American paperbacks were making the transition to the taller size and there's a kind of hipster quality to the cover art that to me is mawkish and attractive -- I think they were deliberately trying to do something "new" and "modern", and to this modern reader they have a kitschy appeal. But it certainly wasn't obvious to me that the Berkley Medallion copy of EVIDENCE OF THINGS SEEN you've shown above has a sunbonnet shape on its cover; I've had a bunch of copies of that book go through my hands and this is the first time I've realized just what that cutout shape holding the photo of the eye actually is. (Probably my poor eye, not bad design.) I certainly hadn't thought of it before, but I don't think I've ever held an Elizabeth Daly hardcover first in my hands; they really are scarce.
    The Felony and Mayhem editions look very elegant and attractive; we may be in for an upsurge in Daly's popularity as people pick these up from bookstore shelves.

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    1. Noah, I find even those Bantam paperbacks are becoming hard to find, especially in unblemished condition! they do seem unusually classy and stylish for the 80s. Those 60s paperbacks do have a certain appeal--love those bouffant hairdos!

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  6. I just finished reading a bantam copy of Evidence of Things Seen! I love the cover. Decent mystery too. Only my second one of her's and it is better than the first, can't recall the title.

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    1. Peggy Ann, I do think this is one of her better ones. The first two or three are weaker, I think, but the later ones ones I have read by her have all been good. I plan to review another by her next month.

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  7. A very nice post. I cannot believe I missed it. I am a fan of Elizabeth Daly and I love book covers, especially the older ones. I have all except one of the Elizabeth Daly books, but still haven't read Book of the Dead and Murders in Volume 2. I have mostly Bantam covers, but I love to get my hands on earlier paperback versions when I can.

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