Back in my bright college days, when Old York Books was still on Church Street in downtown New Brunswick, I spotted a set of Raymond Chandler paperbacks in the display window that instantly sent me into gotta-have mode. Not that I hadn’t read Chandler before — though The Little Sister and The High Window were gaps I immediately filled in — but because the covers were so striking. Not only were they menacing in a vaguely surrealistic way, but they didn’t go for the obvious tommy guns-and-fedoras art that usually accompanies Chandler titles.
The artist in question was Tom Adams, one of the best-known cover artists of his time, and the Chandler titles were part of a 1971 edition put out by Ballantine Books, which in the late Sixties and early Seventies was making some of the classiest-looking paperbacks ever seen in bookstores. The Chandler set has stayed with me over the years, simply because the covers look so damned cool.
As it turned out, choosing Adams for the Raymond Chandler series was simply a continuation of the genre work that had made him famous. Adams, founder of Adams Design Associates, started out doing large-scale murals for corporate clients, then moved into book cover design in the Sixties. He made an immediate sensation with his designs for John Fowles’ novels The Magus, The Collector and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and his paperback covers for various Agatha Christie titles. The Christie titles showcase his penchant for placing background and foreground objects in close proximity, creating a dreamlike atmosphere even though the details are intensely realistic. When he opened his Fulham Gallery in 1967, Adams became a bona fide fixture of Swinging London, and he went on to design light shows for the Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Soft Machine. Lou Reed, a fan of Adams’ work for the Christie editions, commissioned him for the cover art on his first U.K. release.