Mystery and thriller book covers are usually very monotonous and this is not the fault of the designer: It just comes with the territory. A lot of times, the design is simply made up of the book’s title and author’s name printed in super-large font size against a single-color background. In many other covers, this is supplemented with the illustration of a shadowy man: If the book is a thriller, the outline of this man usually depicts a physically fit person, who is standing on top of a hill or a tall building and is looking at a city or village in the horizon.
If the novel is a traditional mystery, then this shadowy man is replaced with the outline of another shadowy man who is wearing a trench coat and a hat. And sometimes the design features culinary items or pastries. Finally, animals are also sometimes featured. However, it is usually the bad ass ones like raven, hawk, or leopards who make it to the cover: It’s never the kangaroo!
Having said all this, there are some creative or smart covers coming out once in a while in the mystery and thriller genre. And when they do, they obviously compliment the joyful experience of reading a good crime or mystery novel. So we decided to show you some of them. For the year 2017, the process for picking up the best mystery and thriller book covers involved searching through 1000+ covers (we kid you not!) and asking asking 12 of our favorite mystery authors to share their picks.
In picking the best covers, beside intangible factors, we particularly paid attention to the choice of colors and fonts, their size and composition and the relevance to the idea behind the plot or general theme of the book. Keep in mind that the numbering is for referencing purposes only and doesn’t imply a ranking.
40 – 53: Highly Creative Book Covers
53. Killing Is My Business: A Ray Electromatic Mystery by Adam Christopher
Robot noir in 60s Los Angeles: How cool is that? Besides the novel idea, the choice of colors are smart and inviting to the eyes. The illustration is also beautiful. The choice of geometrical shapes in creating the portrait of the robot on the cover, reminded us of what our own designers have occasionally done in our print edition.
52. The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose
The simple task of adding a thin rope element, which is seemingly wrapped around the book cover, makes this one very interesting. It gives the reader a creepy feeling about potential captivity of some characters. Also, the placement of the letters and the selection of the font types are also very smart and blend well with the rope.
51. Snatch by by Gregory Mcdonald
There are few reasons Hard Case Crime has become popular during the the last decade. And besides focusing on curating lost noir masterpieces, one popular element of their titles is their stunning original cover art in the grand pulp style. As an example, this title from Gregory Mcdonald, features some brilliant kidnapping novels appearing for the first time in three decades and the pulp art design certainly takes the reader to the period.
50. The Dying Detective by Leif GW Persson
This Scandinavian crime novel from Leif GW Persson has the familiar shadowy man in a trench coat on the cover but with few twists. First, the fusion of black and white photo with the figure outline makes the result interesting and artistic. Secondly, we liked how the image is placed against a unique yellow background. The result is beautiful and minimalist and the typewriter style font choice also intensifies this feeling.
49. The Goddesses by Swan Huntley
The cover for this psychological drama novel is both elegant and distinct at least when it comes to the choice of font. The stunning illustration gives a hint about the lead protagonist who is a young female in Hawaii. By just looking at the portrait on the cover, one can feel that this is a deeply personal story.
48. The Name of the Game is a Kidnapping by Keigo Higashino
This cover is yet another prime example which shows if, as a designer, you want to use the man wearing the hat and trench coat on the cover, there are smart ways of doing it. The gentle zebra-like curves really make this book stand out on the shelf compared to other typical covers. And this combination also gives it a minimalist feel. If you are into Japanese thrillers, this is a decent title by the way.
47. Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
Stephen King teams up with long-time friend and award-winning author Richard Chizmar in this original, chilling novella that revisits the mysterious town of Castle Rock. The cover per se is a work of fine art. With a touch of surrealism, the illustration blends various scenes and key elements of the story in one single image.
46. Where Dead Men Meet by Mark Mills
In this historical thriller, Luke Hamilton—a junior air intelligence officer at the British Embassy—finds himself the target of an assassination attempt. The book cover demonstrates the struggle between Hamilton and the assassin with a simple yet inviting illustration. The composition of the texts and the images seem just right.
45. The Pictures by Guy Bolton
This is another historical mystery novel happening in the late 1930s in Hollywood. The black and white composition and the positioning the image on a negative film really captures the context of the story very well. We really liked the choice of font as it is modern yet it has a vintage feel to it.
44. Terminal Rage by A. M. Khalifa
An excellent minimal book cover design with bright red color as a background which makes this book stand out from the rest on the shelf. This is a fast-paced thriller about a suspected terrorist with a deadly score to settle who cons the US government to do his horrific job for him. And the red color also implicitly sends a signal to the reader that this is a bad-ass book.
This is another great example of using minimalism in book cover design. Again the effect of picking a bright yellow color such as the one used in this book cover is that it captures the attention of a potential reader (or buyer). There is not much information about the story on the cover: If someone wants to know more, he/she should open the book and read it.
42. Dog Dish of Doom: An Agent to the Paws Mystery by E. J. Copperman
This is a cozy mystery and the feeling that the playful illustration on the cover conveys really sets the right tone. The lettering of the title is delightful and is perfectly placed in the middle of the page and inside the dog illustration. A combination of lively colors and a friendly font type shouts to the reader “I am a fun read.”
41. Fog Over Tolbiac Bridge: A Nestor Burma Mystery by Jacques Tardi, Léo Malet
This is the first of Jacques Tardi’s four major graphic novel adaptations of legendary French crime writer Léo Malet’s original “Nestor Burma” novels ― in this one, Burma avenges the death of an old anarchist friend. A great deal of the charm lies in the illustration of Nestor and yet the overall tone of the cover is series enough for a crime novel.
40. Mister Memory by Marcus Sedgwick
There is a lot going on with this cover: The area of the cover is almost entirely furnished with different illustrations which narrate important elements of the story. Colors pop out of the surface, yet there are gentle and inviting. This book, in a nutshell, is about a dazzling psychological puzzle that reveals the strange connection between memory and fate. The placement of a brain and a skull in the bottom and top of the cover captures this idea very well.
30 – 39: Smart Choices In Design
39. Killing Adonis by J. M. Donellan
The design is elegant and minimal. This is a cozy mystery and the friendly tone that font type sets really conveys this feeling. This is a book which ends with both a bride and a body count. We are purely speculating here but maybe that’s why the designer has chosen black, white and red as the only colors for the cover.
38. Catalina Eddy by Daniel Pyne
What a smart cover design: This is a novel in three decades (hence the pistols on the cover) and a collection of three loosely connected crime novellas, each set in a distinct era in Southern California. The mix of yellow and red colors go well with the gritty, hard-boiled style of this story. A simple yet powerful design which pops out of the cover, few of our author colleagues found this a very catchy design.
37. Based on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan
The designer has taken a simple portrait, broken it into few pieces and rearranged it in an asymmetrical way. The result is a beautiful cover background which symbolizes the chattered trust between the two key characters. This is by the way a great read: It sold half a million copies in France and is the subject of a film by Roman Polanski.
36. Nasty Cutter by Tim O’Mara
Absolutely brilliant merging of the title text and image. Also the background image is highly relevant as this is a New York-based mystery. The story is about x-cop Raymond Donne whose father’s former law partner, Harry Stover, is murdered while being celebrated as Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s “Man of the Year.” Raymond fights his old police instincts to stay out of the investigation but at the end he gives in.
35. Come Home by Patricia Gussin
We appreciate the simplicity and positioning of the type for the title. The design which has an earthy background makes a bold and elegant statement. This title is more of a drama novel about a lead character who is torn between the decision to stay with his family or obey his father. The contrast between black and red colors in the book title indicate the likely family splits as a result of this decision.
34. Containment by Hank Parker
This is a debut thriller about a global plot to release a deadly virus and the elite response team who must try to stop it. The idea of using blood spatter element to give a hint about the plot is very smart. This striking text-driven design is executed beautifully by placing the title vertically in the middle of the page.
33. The Mentor by Lee Matthew Goldberg
The placement of the type for the title and author’s name is so visually creative and pleasing. In addition to title placement. the combination of a more formal font type with a more playful font for the sub-title and author’s name is interesting as well. The lead character, Kyle Broder, is an editor at a major publishing house so the choice of a stack of books as the background is a sensible choice.
32. A Minor Fall by by Price Ainsworth
The combination of simplicity, contained complexity, eye-pleasing background color and iconic font type make this a lovely cover.
31. Invisible Dead by Sam Wiebe
Bright, rusty font type and illustration placed on top a dark background creates a bold visual experience. The type choice and the fact that it almost looks like a child-like hand-drawn font makes this book cover more authentic.
A fun an d light-hearted cover for this reprint of Jason’s first long-form graphic novel, in which a detective meets a woman who has a lost cat, and, in true noir fashion, nothing is as it seems. This is a simple yet elegant design!
1 – 29: Other Notable Covers
Other notable book cover designs, for mystery and thriller books released in 2017, are as follows:
29. The Night Bird by Brian Freeman
28. Blackbird by Michael Fiegel
26. Once Buried by Blake Pierce
25. Stumptown Volume 4 The Case of a Cup of Joe by Greg Rucka
24. The Weight of This World by David Joy
23. Grim Death and Bill the Electrocuted Criminal by Mike Mignola and Thomas E. Sniegoski
22. The Reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick
21. The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
20. The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge
18. The Devouring by James R. Benn
16. Race to Judgment by Frederic Block
15. Without Merit by Colleen Hoover
12. Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson
11. Strangers in Budapest by Jessica Keener
10. Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Own King
9. Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane
8. The Ghosts of Galway by Ken Bruen
5. Death in St. Petersburg by Tasha Alexander
4. See What I Have Done by Sara Schmidt
3. Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda
2. Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr
1. Strange Weather by Joe Hill