Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer

by Wesley Stace // A Picador Paperback Original

England, 1923. A gentleman critic named Leslie Shepherd tells the macabre story of a gifted young composer, Charles Jessold. On the eve of his revolutionary new opera’s premiere, Jessold murders his wife and her lover, and then commits suicide in a scenario that strangely echoes the plot of his opera---which Shepherd has helped to write. The opera will never be performed.

Shepherd first shares his police testimony, then recalls his relationship with Jessold in his role as critic, biographer, and friend. And with each retelling of the story, significant new details cast light on the identity of the real victim in Jessold’s tragedy.

This ambitiously intricate novel is set against a turbulent moment in music history, when atonal sounds first reverberated through the concert halls of Europe, just as the continent readied itself for war. What if Jessold’s opera was not only a betrayal of Shepherd, but of England as well?

Wesley Stace has crafted a dazzling story of counter-melodies and counter-narratives that will keep you guessing to the end.

A wonderfully layered novel with lot of plot pieces that could easily lead to a kitchen sink design approach. In order to rein it in, I needed to reduce it to its essential story elements:
1. Three intertwining main characters (Love Triangle)
2. Music (English specifically) and
3. Mystery (Historical)

I thought using an 8th Note Triplet musical note would be a nice symbol to suggest a story of three linked characters. And printing it on an aged distressed letter to say historical setting. But I needed to bring out the music aspect more so using sheet music came to mind.

I originally started with the classic Schirmer's Library Piano Sheet Music:

But I was informed that Schirmer's sheet music was not accurate for a novel about English music. A rival sheet music library, Edition Peters would be a better choice. The author's mother sent me several JPEGs of her music collection as reference.

A few had wonderful typographic solutions to possibly play off on:

But I went with this one because I had enough elements and wanted to keep my cover simple:

I didn't want to lift their look exactly so I found a similar frame in one of my favorite copyright-free Dover book of frames and borders, BORDERS, FRAMES AND DECORATIVE MOTIFS: from the 1862 Derriey Typographic Catalog by Charles Derriey:

I overlaid the design on some burnt sheets of paper to give it a sense of distress and foul play. To give the faux cover some added depth, I used snippets of the music score composed expressly for this novel underneath. Bar 140 specifically because of the line "the victim." Although in the final design, the lyrics were covered up.

Opening title page of the score, "On Murder, Considered as a Fine Art: a suite for soprano with harpsichord, flute and cello" by Wesley Stace/Thomas De Quincey:

Bar 135-140:

Previous Directions
An Old Love Letter:

A Musical Score:

Damaged by Bullet Holes:

Final full Paperback Cover with French Flaps:

Eugene Mirman's hilarious interview with Wesley Stace for Picador Paperbacks: