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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

INSIGHTS: Tom Adams & Christie's US paperbacks

Updated: Apr 25

UPDATED: 24-April-2024.

Tom Adams is arguably the most well known artist associated with Agatha Christie. His cover art for the European & UK Fontana books started with A Murder Is Announced in 1963 and continued through to Miss Marple’s Final Cases in 1980 (which is extremely rare to find with his art on the front panel). While these UK covers are widely collected and admired, the covers he created for the Pocket Books paperbacks in the US covers are less well known.

The Pocket Books Aesthetic.

Tom Adams was contracted by Pocket Books to design covers for 26 US covers, all of which were published between 1971 and 1974. Pocket Books had a different vision for the covers - ones that provided more narrative, utilizing the full cover with no white space and an image that wrapped around the whole book, using the spine and rear panel. From a layman's perspective - this was a 'landscape' format painting that wrapped around as opposed to the 'portrait' style paintings for Fontana. This afforded Tom Adams, as the artist, the opportunity to create a very different cover than he had for Fontana as more detail could be added to the image. The artistic narrative that each these covers communicates has a lot of depth and should be closely scrutinized to fully appreciate.

I would argue that Tom Adams' experience with these Pocket Book covers led to his agreement to create the Sammer Gallery paintings in 2004. This was a series of seven large format paintings that expanded the design elements of earlier Fontana paperbacks into a 'landscape' style. For more details on these Sammer Gallery paintings, click this link.

The 26 Covers.

All of the covers were numbered by Pocket Books, and publication dates started in 1971 (with # 77434) and the last was in 1974.

77434: Passenger to Frankfurt.

Of note, this is the first US paperback printing of this title, preceding the British Fontana edition by a year, but was published after the 'Continental' Fontana edition.

77444: The Body in the Library.

77445: Death Comes as the End.

This book in the US series is unique in that Adams repurposed the design elements from the British Fontana paperback published in 1968. A few changes were made, the most significant being the change in the artifact placed next to the dead body. It is easy to speculate on why this cover was repurposed, but from now on all covers for the US Pocket Book printings would be unique. The image was also used as source material for the larger Sammer Gallery edition of this title.

The US (left) and UK (right) versions

77446: Remembered Death.

UK title: Sparkling Cyanide. Of note, the US title was Christie's preferred title but with its first publication shortly after World War II, the suggestion was made to change the title for the British market to something that wouldn't have negative connotations.

77447: Easy to Kill.

77448: Murder in the Calais Coach.

Original title: The Murder on the Orient Express. Likely due to the popularity of this book, this is one of the harder titles to find in very good collector quality condition.

77449: The Mystery of the Blue Train.

This is the only cover whose source painting was not in landscape format. Here, the cover image used a painting of a hand that Tom Adams said he created for The Man in the Brown Suit - a book neither Fontana nor Pocket Books published as they could not secure the rights - so it was repurposed here. In addition, the rear panel image is not an extension of the cover as the black spine hints at. This rear panel image is a standalone painting that I am fortunate to have in my collection. It is significant because the Christie estate did not want Adams to portray an image of Hercule Poirot in any of the art he designed. However, on the rear panel of The Mystery of The Blue Train, the character standing alongside the train was confirmed to me by Tom to be Hercule Poirot - one that slid by the censors. As such it is the only paperback Adams ever did with an image of Poirot.

77451: Peril at End House.

77452: The A.B.C. Murders.

77453: Towards Zero.

Be certain to look closely in the water... perhaps too much of a hint to the plot was provided here, but it's certainly a great cover.

77584: Ordeal by Innocence.

77581: And Then There Were None.

Using the original American title, this was original published in the UK under a different title.

77582: By The Pricking of My Thumbs.

The Sammer Gallery painting for this title shows some of the design elements from the Pocket Book cover were integrated.

77583: Endless Night.

77608: Nemesis.

Published in 1973, this is the first US paperback of this title. It was originally designed to be a wrap around cover though the publisher chose to use the full image on both the front and rear panels, likely because the face would have been too dominant.

It is also interesting to note, that Tom Adams had created a portrait style painting for this cover that was not used by Fontana, so he integrated the design elements into this picture. That original painting (below) is one I am fortunate to have in my collection.

77609: Funerals are Fatal.

The British title is After the Funeral.

77611: A Murder is Announced.

This was the first paperback Tom Adams created for Fontana books, so it must have evoked some memories when he created this cover, which is very different from the original British cover.

77612 / 80530: Third Girl.

Here with the correct title as the first Fontana paperbacks accidentally published it as 'The Third Girl' - making those paperbacks very collectible if you can find one!

77613: Crooked House.

77614: Mrs. McGinty's Dead.

This cover did have design elements that were also used on the British Fontana paperback. It was also 'borrowed' by Bantam books when they published 'The Secret Adversay'.

77615: The Pale Horse.

77616 / 80360: The Mirror Crack'd.

The original title in the UK was The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side.  Perhaps viewed as too long to put on a cover!

77617: The Clocks.

77618: Dead Man's Folly.

The design elements from this title can also be seen in two other Adams covers - the Fontana edition of this same title as well as A Caribbean Mystery.  

77655: Hickory Dickory Death.

In the UK, the original title was Hickory, Dickory, Dock. The US title was suggested to Christie by her publisher's - Dodd Mead.

77667: Evil Under the Sun.

This is one of my favourite covers from this series of Pocket Book editions.

Collectability: While a couple of these are first US paperbacks, most were reprints of earlier paperback editions. In addition, the first title - Death Comes as the End - will state it is the 14th printing as Pocket Books did there best to sequence the issuance all the way back to the first Dodd Mead hardback.

Finding these US Tom Adams covers is generally fairly easy with a few exceptions. However, many are well read, creased and worn, and so the condition is always an issue. Most of these books are currently worth $5 (well used) - $20 (like new) with a few exceptions (see below) that I believe have more value. All of these books are generally underappreciated as his UK books seem to garner more attention. Thus, in my opinion offer good upside potential.

The Rarer Ones: As with all paperback collecting, buy the best quality you can. But on the four below, acquire what you find. These four are likely to offer more long-term value to collectors for the reasons cited and should be acquired when available:

1. Mystery of the Blue Train: With its hidden image of Poirot and two cover panel design, it is unique amongst the series.

2. Murder on the Calais Coach: Scarcer due to collectability of the title.

3. Third Girl: This title is scarcer for unknown reasons - so I can only assume a smaller print run.

4. Death Comes As The End: This title appears much scarcer than other. It seems the number published was much smaller for unknown reasons, but perhaps due to its historic setting that US publishers may have felt would sell less well or because it was the first of the series and demand was not yet known.

Other Resoures.

For further insights into Tom Adams' work, there is a great article on the Beautiful Books website (link). Thank you to Daisy at Beautiful Books for her approval to use many of the images from her site saving me trying to scan front, spine and rear of my books allowing me to avoid the risk of breaking the spines.

The are also two excellent books about Tom Adams' artwork - Agatha Christie: Cover Story (US: The Art of Her Crimes) and Tom Adams Uncovered.

Closing Thoughts:

Thank you for reading and comments are always most welcome. I'd love to know if these covers evoke memories for you or if you have a favourite one. If you are not a subscriber to my website, please consider subscribing here: link. This ensures you receive an email any time I write and post an article. Also, consider following me on X (formerly Twitter) @collectchristie and on Facebook (link). The content varies across platforms.

Also, tickets are still available for my presentation at the 2024 International Agatha Christie Festival, though the remaining slots are starting to dwindle down, so if you do plan on coming please consider acquiring tickets soon. I hope to see you there. For more details or to obtain tickets go to this link: Festival Link.

I have lots more articles I'm working on but if there's something you'd like me to consider do let me know by writing to me at: 

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Apr 24

These are wonderful... I had to immediately order a copy of "Tom Adams Uncovered". I think my favorite is "The A.B.C. Murders" (which I'm coincidentally re-reading at the moment)... very dark and atmospheric.

David Morris
David Morris
Apr 25
Replying to

Thanks for commenting and glad you liked the article. The book you ordered is excellent and I have no doubt you'll enjoy it.

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