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Uncovering Cover Art

The cover art for Lethal Fetish, my upcoming mystery novel in the Riley series features sultry, salacious, even lascivious images. Conor Mullen—my immensely gifted and creative artist—and I worked with various images to evoke the decadence that unfolds in the story. We settled on three evocative features (not including the less subtle elements in the storefront windows): stiletto heels, fishnet stockings and San Francisco’s Coit Tower. So why are these so suggestive?

According to psychologists, we associate high heels with sexiness by seeing that a woman’s: 1) breasts are enhanced because the shoes cause her back to arch which thrusts her chest forward, 2) buttocks appear larger because they are lifted, 3) legs look longer and a higher leg:torso ratio is associated with younger women, 4) hips sway more because the heels shorten her gait and force pelvic rotation, and 5) feet look more petite and attractive. So, evolutionary lust conspires with fashion innovation.

As for fishnet stockings, their story begins in the 1920s when these articles of (un)clothing revealed flashes of a flapper’s flesh, and showgirls discovered that the loose weave on loose women alluringly distorted rounded flesh. Fishnets surged to fashion prominence in the 1950s with pin-up girls such as Bettie Page, Jane Russell and the inimitable Marilyn Monroe. And in the 1970s, punk rockers shredded fishnets in homage to BDSM culture—a raw sensuality that Madonna took to new levels of fashion in the 1980s.

This leaves us with Coit Tower, an architectural erection featured in Vertigo (1958) which Alfred Hitchcock bluntly described as “a phallic symbol.” This art deco “beacon of virility” is not named in reference to coitus but to Lillie Hitchcock (no relation to Alfred) Coit, aka 'Firebelle Lil' Coit. This eccentric, turn-of-the-century dame was (in)famous for smoking cigars and dressing like a man to access San Francisco’s gambling halls. Upon her death in 1920, she left the city a large sum of money which the civic leaders used to build the tower, as well as commissioning a statue of studly firefighters (one cradling an unconscious barefooted lass)—Lillie’s notorious, some would suggest lurid, obsession.

There you have it, three strange even twisted stories behind the images on the cover of Lethal Fetish—a murderous tale in which Riley is thrust into the kinky corners of a city where the boundary between normalcy and deviancy is blurred, where sex is handcuffed to violence.

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