Mystery Covers by Subgenre

Here’s a post at Kill Zone Blog that ties into the recent mystery subgenre post: Covers That Capture Readers and Convey the Right Mood

This post is actually about putting subgenre-suitable covers on mysteries so that people who want a Cozy don’t pick up a Hardboiled novel by accident, and vice versa. I thought, sure, show me some covers!

And we see … a wide stylistic variety in what we might call “General Mysteries,” while Cozy Mysteries have a different vibe, and mysteries aimed at YA readers are more stylistically unpredictable again.

One thing I personally dislike on a cover is this:

What is that last word? I honestly find that difficult to read. I don’t understand why you would do that. it just shouldn’t be that hard to make the title clearly readable. Maybe the author is famous and her name, which is readable, is considered much more important than the title.

PJ Parrish, at the KZB post, specifically asks about this cover:

They don’t like it. I think I kind of do. Also, the title is VERY good at conveying what kind of story this is, or at least, I assume it’s accurate rather than misleading. Not something I want to read, but I think this ought to be a successful cover.

This is the one mystery that leaped out at me:

The title is so much fun! This looks like a fun story, not a psychological thriller. So I clicked through, and here it is on Amazon:

USA Today bestseller

A lonely shopkeeper takes it upon herself to solve a murder in the most peculiar way in this captivating mystery by Jesse Q. Sutanto, bestselling author of Dial A for Aunties.


Vera Wong is a lonely little old lady—ah, lady of a certain age—who lives above her forgotten tea shop in the middle of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Despite living alone, Vera is not needy, oh no. She likes nothing more than sipping on a good cup of Wulong and doing some healthy detective work on the Internet about what her Gen-Z son is up to.

Then one morning, Vera trudges downstairs to find a curious thing—a dead man in the middle of her tea shop. In his outstretched hand, a flash drive. Vera doesn’t know what comes over her, but after calling the cops like any good citizen would, she sort of . . . swipes the flash drive from the body and tucks it safely into the pocket of her apron. Why? Because Vera is sure she would do a better job than the police possibly could, because nobody sniffs out a wrongdoing quite like a suspicious Chinese mother with time on her hands. Vera knows the killer will be back for the flash drive; all she has to do is watch the increasing number of customers at her shop and figure out which one among them is the killer.

What Vera does not expect is to form friendships with her customers and start to care for each and every one of them. As a protective mother hen, will she end up having to give one of her newfound chicks to the police?

Oh, look at this, it’s a bestseller! Average star rating of 4.4, about 7500 ratings. Since it’s a bestseller AND it looks appealing to me, sure, let’s add it to the list of books where we look at the first page and see if we’d go on:

***

Vera Wong Zhuzhu, age sixty, is a pig, but she really should have been born a rooster. We are, of course, referring to Chinese horoscopes. Vera Wong is a human woman, thank you very much, but roosters have nothing on her. Every morning, at exactly four thirty, Vera’s eyelids snap open like roller shades shooting up. Then the upper half of her body levitates from the mattress-no lazy rolling out of bed for Vera, though admittedly sitting up in bed now comes with about half a dozen clicks and clacks of her joints. She swings her fuzzy-socked feet out with gusto and immediately finds the slippers she placed next to her bed with military precision the night before. She takes a quick moment to send a text to her son, reminding him that he’s sleeping his life away and should have been up and at it before her. He is, after all, a young man with a whole world to conquer. Late mornings, Vera believes, are only for toddlers and Europeans.

After a quick wash, Vera dons her morning gear-a polo shirt with a Ralph Lauren logo so big that it covers her entire left breast (well, okay, thanks to the ravages of time and gravity, it covers the top half of her breast) and sweatpants. Arm sleeves are yanked on and adjusted so that there isn’t an exposed sliver of skin between her shirt sleeves and the removable ones. Many years ago, when Vera was a brazen young woman, she never checked her arm sleeves and often walked around with a tanned strip of skin around her upper arms. Those were obviously the wild days, when she lived life on the edge and took unnecessary risks.

Sleeves on, Vera nods at her reflection and marches to the kitchen, where she gulps down a pint of room-temperature water — cold water, Vera believes, would freeze the fats in your arteries and give you heart disease. At the door, Vera dons her orthopedic sneakers and her tortoiseshell sunglasses, and finally, the last and perhaps most vital article of clothing — a visor so enormous that there is no way that a single ray of freckle-causing, wrinkle-making sunlight could snake its way onto her face. Then, without a backward glance, Vera strides out into the world.

And all of this happens without the aid of alarm clocks. Vera should really have been a rooster, but she isn’t, she is a pig, and perhaps that is where all the trouble began.

According to the Chinese horoscope, pigs are diligent and compassionate and are the ones to call upon when sincere advice is needed. Unfortunately, very few people call Vera for sincere advice, or even insincere advice. The one person who should be calling her at all times for advice-her son, Tilbert-never does. Vera doesn’t quite understand why. When her parents were alive, she often went to them for advice, even when she didn’t need to, because unlike her son, Vera was a filial child and knew that asking her parents for advice made them feel needed. Well, no matter. Vera is a diligent mother and goes out of her way to give Tilly all the advice he could ever need anyway. Her previous texts are as follows:

Sent today at 4:31 a.m.:

Tilly, are you awake? It is 4:31 AM, very late. When I was your age, I wake up at 4AM every morning to cook breakfast for Ah Gong and Ah Ma. Qi lai! Seize the day! Carpe diem! Kind regards, Mama.

Sent yesterday at 7:45 p.m.:

Tilly, I notice that this girl @NotChloeBennet has liked TWO of your videos on the TikTok! I think this means
she likes you. I look at her profile and she pout a lot, but I think she will make good wife. She went with her mother for manicure last week, this means she is a filial daughter. Perhaps you should slip and slide into her DM. Kind regards, Mama.

Vera had been particularly pleased about using the phrase “slip and slide into her DM.” Vera insists on keeping up to date with every trend. She doesn’t believe in getting left behind by the younger generations. Every time she comes across a nonsensical-sounding phrase, she looks it up on the Google and jots down its meaning in her little notebook.

Sent yesterday at 5:01 p.m.:

Tilly, it is 5PM, I hope you have eaten your dinner. Your Uncle Lin eat dinner at 7PM every night and he didn’t even live past thirty. You better eat dinner now. Kind regards, Mama.

This one actually garnered a reply.

Tilly: Uncle Lin died because he was hit by a bus. And I’ve told you to stop calling me Tilly. I go by Bert.

Vera: Don’t talk back to your elders. I raise you better than that. And what is wrong with Tilly? It’s a good name, your Baba and I think long and hard about your name, you should treasure it.

***

What do you think? I think this is well-written and rather charming. This, in combination with the description, is certainly enough to make me hit “send a sample,” although this traditionally-published book is too expensive for me to actually buy it unless I decide I actually want to read it.

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9 thoughts on “Mystery Covers by Subgenre”

  1. Oh, the Vera Wong is next up for my book club. That writing style is pretty fun; now I’m looking forward to how everyone reacts.

    I don’t like the phone-style book cover. It just looks like a misplaced screenshot, which sure, that’s kind of the point, but if I were browsing on Amazon, it wouldn’t register as a book.

    I’m honestly surprised to see covers like Amish Bridegroom. It’s so hard to read, and it would be so easy to fix. It feels like they’re using a template without any artistic sense. Well, maybe that isn’t entirely fair, but it makes me want to tweak it.

  2. I’m sure it does, Mona, and I’m sure you could do much better! If you remember, you might say whether you give the Vera Wong book a thumbs up or thumbs down when you read it.

  3. Sure. I put it on hold at my local library this week, so I’ve still got a 2 months’ wait or so.

  4. It may be my brain is in nitpick mode but while I appreciated the first paragraph or so, I thought Vera’s story went on too long. I suspect I’d have to be in the right frame of mind to get far enough to decide to keep or toss.

  5. I would not turn the page on the Vera Wong. It’s well written, and I can see how it would be amusing, but it’s poking one of my pet peeves. I really dislike when people’s families are overbearing and it’s presented for a laugh. I reached the end of this thinking, if that was my mom I would probably have blocked her number by now.

  6. I see the kindle version of Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice is $11.99 on Amazon.com. It’s £2.99 on the uk amazon site, less than $4, which is some mark up for you on the west side of the Atlantic. The style grates on me a little but I’ll give it a go because I’m trying to expand my reading range

  7. Wow, Sue. If it were $2.99 on this side, I’d pick it up. Thus we see that price does matter, contrary to what actual marketing “experts” employed by big publishers say.

  8. And I tried the sample, reporting back: did not go on. The tipping point was the second POV, which was different but written in the same grating style not only prose-wise, but how long it went on without making the subject interesting.

    While I also had some of Otterb’s response (including the blocked number), Vera reminded me of someone I used to work with, so I could work with the writer on that.

  9. Well, good to know, Elaine. I’m just as pleased I haven’t ever had a coworker who reminded me of Vera, I have to admit.

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