Judging a publisher by its cover
In my previous post about the book, I commented that the U.S. cover and title seemed vastly inferior to me than the British ones ("The Rivers of London"), but I withheld comment on another aspect of the cover: possible racism or pandering to the perceived racism of the marketplace. I didn't mention it because I wasn't sure that was the intent.
The hero/protagonist of the book is a U.K. citizen of mixed racial identity, a fact that has some bearing on the character and the book, but this fact was obscured by his depiction on the cover as a silhouette. In fact, I wasn't even sure at first it was meant to be him. The menacing stance, leather jacket and gun in his hand could mean it was a bad guy. I guess they wanted to make the book look hard and gritty. (For the record, the hero is more bookish than badass, and I don't recall that he even carries a gun in the novel.)
The cover of the British version, which as I said I prefer, didn't even show the protagonist, but I wouldn't automatically accuse the British publisher of racism on that account. A lot of decisions, artistic and editorial, go into choosing an image to represent a novel. So while I suspected racism (or something similar) by the American publisher, I didn't want to throw out the charge based solely on the published cover.
Then, on Aaronovitch's blog, I saw an unpublished version of the cover, an earlier version exactly the same except for one thing: the man was less blurred and clearly of African descent.
So while NOT showing that the character is black may not necessarily be racist, to alter the illustration to disguise the fact that the man IS black seems awfully suspicious.
A sequel is also out, "Moon Over Soho," and two versions of that cover also exist, one black, one silhouette. Guess which one has been published?
I'd say the burden of proof is now on the publisher, Del Rey.
If you'd like to judge for yourself, here are links to the cover images: