Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The mystery behind the book cover

by Jorn Lier Horst, Norway

One of the things I find most thrilling about having my books translated is seeing what the foreign-language covers look like.
My new novel, 'Ordeal', has been sold to twenty-three countries and most of the foreign publishers have chosen to use the image of an old, deserted house on their front cover. You must really read the book to understand why.
Just before Christmas, Sandstone Press, publisher of the English language edition, sent me a cover, designed by Freight Design in Glasgow. I liked it a lot. The house on the cover appeared not only empty, but also abandoned, and there was something about it that made me want to open the book to find out what secrets were hidden within those four walls.
At the same time, it seemed as if there was something familiar about it. It was almost frighteningly like a picture I had in my head. Seeing this book cover gave me some sort of feeling of deja vu.
Of course, I've described the house in the book and thought that Freight Design must have done an exceptionally good job. I took out the original manuscript and leafed through to the chapter where Wisting arrives in this place: Once, the farmhouse had been painted white. Now it was grey and neglected. The downpipes hung broken at the corners, there were no curtains at the windows, and a wooden board replaced a broken pane. Well, it did not fit exactly, this bit about the missing curtains and the broken windowpane, but the actual house was exactly as I had envisaged it in my mind's eye.
Later the cover pictures I got to see included ones from Denmark, Sweden, Poland and Germany. They all had old houses on their front covers, but none were like the English version.
Then, just a few days later, I received an email from a man in my own hometown of Larvik, in the far south of Norway. He proudly explained that it was his wife who had taken the picture on the front cover of my new book. She had photographed the house twelve years earlier and used the image hosting website Flickr. One day she had been approached by a graphic designer who was keen to buy the rights to the photo.
I wrote back and commented that it was quite a coincidence that both the photographer and author were from the same town.
However, it transpired that the coincidences were even greater than that. The man wrote back to say that the house was located just outside Larvik town centre and is still there, only even more dilapidated and ramshackle.
It began to dawn on me. I had seen this house before, in reality. That was why it had seemed so familiar and immediate. Of all the houses Freight Design had found when they searched on the internet for 'abandoned house', they had found one in my own hometown. You can try the search for yourself, of course. Google produces 26,900,000 hits. I'm no mathematician, but the likelihood of a design agency finding and choosing a house situated less than ten kilometres from where I live must be negligible.
The real Ordeal
I realised that I had to visit this house. Yesterday I drove there. The place looks as if it's been plucked from a crime novel. My car bumped over potholes and tussocks of grass. A flock of birds took off from a leafy tree, like a swarm of insects, when I drew to a halt.
It must have been years since people lived there. In addition to the dilapidation, there were also signs of vandalism. Gangs of boys had smashed windows, broken in and destroyed what was left of the fixtures and fittings.
I grew curious about the secrets the house concealed – why it was deserted and falling into disrepair and what atrocities had been committed here that had led to it being left unoccupied.
On the neighbouring property, I spotted a man repairing a fence. This turned out to be the owner of the house. The story he told me was neither dramatic nor exciting. The house had been built in the fifties. His aunt and uncle had lived there and he had taken it over on their death. For a while he had rented it out, but the market had been difficult and it was eventually left vacant. Vegetation grew up around it, and it was soon to be demolished.
Chance had willed that the house would end up on the front cover of one of my books. I can promise you that what happens in the book is far more exciting than the real house turned out to contain.
As a criminal investigator, I have never believed in coincidence. There are always explanations. Patterns, threads and logical connections. The story of the house on the front cover of 'Ordeal' is the kind of coincidence that would spoil an otherwise good crime novel. But I must admit that there is a place for coincidences in life, outwith the rules laid down by the laws of nature and described by the province of science.

Jørn Lier Horst
Also published at


  1. Great story, Jørn. I'm looking forward to the book. In the meanwhile I'm going to search for the images for some of our covers. But I don't expect to beat those odds!

  2. It is indeed a sinister looking house, but I am just happy to see another translated story!

  3. Very spooky, Jørn! Do you think by some chance you had ever seen the house before, and it stuck in a corner of your mind somewhere?

    1. That might be, Zoe - but it does not explain how the designer's choice fell on this image ...

    2. True, but it might explain why it felt so 'right' when you saw the picture. :-)

  4. Great photo! Reminds me of Southwestern Pennslvania fracking country.

  5. I love stories like this. I can't wait to hear what they find when they demolish the house!!

  6. Coincidence does, indeed, have a place in real life. Of course, we never know about all those coincidences that never happened, so that makes the ones that do seem all the more miraculous. But in fiction, alas, the author is allowed (at most) ONE coincidence before willing suspension of disbelief becomes unwilling disbelief.

  7. I love this story and all stories of real life coincidences. They have happened to me a LOT. My favorite Mark Twain quote: Truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction is held to a standard of plausibility. Truth follows no such rule. One chance in a billion? HIGHLY unlikely. But not impossible.

    Is it possible that the house itself was something you "saw" but did not register, and that the image came out of your unconscious. All my stories seem to come from there.
    Here is the TRUTH. While I was tying the last paragraph, the random song that came up on my computer (out of 11,996 possibilities in my collection) was The Doors' "Crystal Ship," which begins "Before you slip into unconsciousness..." I was typing the word just as Jim Morrison was singing it. NO LIE.

  8. What an interesting "coincidence" and story... one wonders how the mind can sublimate things and how much truly is coincidence in life...