10/07/2011 09:33 am ET Updated Dec 07, 2011

Design Friday: 7 Sexy Crime Book Covers

Back in the 1940s and 50s, there was an explosion in the popularity of paperback crime novels, triggered mainly by the success of Mickey Spillane's first Mike Hammer opus, "I, The Jury" (You think Harry Potter's huge, or "The Da Vinci Code?" Hammer had them both beat. At one point, seven of the 15 best-selling books of all time were Spillane novels). To cash in on Spillane's success, competing paperback lines sprang up, each trying to outdo the others with lurid, sexy, painted covers and titles like "Say It With Bullets" or "Kiss My Fist!" The pulp fiction style sold millions of books and remained popular for several decades before finally petering out from a glut of material and the changing tastes of readers.

Flash forward half a century: graphic design genius Max Phillips and I are out drinking on a cold winter night and one of us asks the other, "Why doesn't anyone publish great-looking, fun books like that anymore?" The other hoists his glass and says, "Why don't we?" And Hard Case Crime is born.

Tough guys with guns and sexy femme fatales, menace in the shadows and danger in the light, right hooks, and double crosses and deadly embraces: If you can imagine it appearing on a film noir movie poster or an old paperback cover, it's the sort of thing we love. Every Hard Case Crime novel features an original cover painting in the grand pulp style, created for us by award-winning illustrators like the legendary Robert McGinnis, the man who painted the posters for the first James Bond movies (not to mention more than 1,000 paperback covers back in the pulp era). We've put together a slideshow of some of our favorites, including one, "False Negative," that's never been seen anywhere yet. Fair warning: those with heart conditions or weak constitutions might think twice before clicking through.

Crime covers