May 2014

The Cover Art of Dell Shannon, Part 1

So my father-in-law, knowing I like mysteries, has loaned me his entire collection of Dell Shannon mysteries. Dell Shannon, not be confused with Del Shannon ("I'm a-walkin' in the rain...") is the pen name of one Elizabeth Linington. I guess I should say one of the pen names, as she wrote under several names including her own. All of the books written under the name Dell Shannon, though, are police procedurals featuring Lieutenant Luis Mendoza of the Los Angeles homicide department. They are good stories, well told, and were hot sellers in their day -- the series ran for nearly forty books, the first in 1960 and the last in 1986 -- but they are all but fogotten now.

Part of the fun for me, though, is the variety of cover art in my father-in-law's collection. He's bought every book in the series, although a couple have gone missing (a mystery in itself), and they are a motley crew, with first-edition hardbacks rubbing shoulders with mass-market paperback reprints. These covers are a good lesson in the history, good and bad, of American cover art. And so I present the first installment of: The Cover Art of Dell Shannon.

Unfortunately, the first four books (Case Pending, The Ace of Spades, Extra Kill, and Knave of Hearts) are in an omnibus book club edition that has lost its jacket. So we begin with book 5, Death of a Busybody.

Death of a Busybody

I like the cover on this mass-market reprint. I would have thought trying to shoot someone through a phone was impossible until I saw this (warning: comic gore). Seriously, though, this cover delivers the goods. It highlights important elements of the main crime (Mendoza stories always have several going on at once) without giving anything away. Get used to that quote from the Los Angeles Times -- it appears on many of the covers as a kind of generic blurb when they couldn't get a title-specific one.

And now we come to perhaps the low point of all Dell Shannon covers, Double Bluff.

Double Bluff

This is one of the better stories, but you wouldn't know it from this cover. Yipes. It's like they were about to send everything to the printer and then realized they forgot to make a cover. What about Jimmy the intern? Doesn't he know how to draw a little? Yes, a little, but he can't draw perspective or fit objects into space in any logical way. Everything he draws looks like it's slowly melting. Plus, he's never read the book -- best he can do is draw a vague bedroom scene that has nothing to do with anything. Sigh. Best we can do.

Next episode: Mark of Murder and Root of All Evil.


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