I’m hearing more and more about cozy mysteries. So how do cozies fit in in the mystery genre? How do they compare to the three classifications that sound like you’re making eggs–soft-boiled, medium boiled, and hard boiled? Or the police procedural or suspense thriller?
When someone described what a cozy mystery was, my first thought was, “Oh, Murder She Wrote, with amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher. Murder She Wrote was a television series in the 80s and 90s starring Angela Lansbury. Her character was a bright, widowed, retired English teacher who had become a successful mystery writer. The setting was a costal town in Maine where people died suspiciously on a very regular basis. Jessica was the one who solved the crimes/mysteries despite police involvement.
What are the elements of a cozy? The setting for the cozy mystery is often a smaller community where everybody potentially knows your name, who you are, and much about your personal life and business.
The murders are never graphically described, and there isn’t the blood or gore found in a more hard-boiled mystery.
There is no explicit sex. If it seems a couple is moving in that direction, the scene fades-out, and details are left to the imaginations of the readers.
The protagonist is intelligent, usually with a college degree. She may have left her hometown for a successful career, then returned for any number of reasons. Perhaps there was a scandal she was involved in and she flees her old life. Perhaps it is to take over a family business, or help with an ill, or aging family member. Although she is not a police officer or detective, she has some relationship with someone who is. That may or may not be a good thing. Police don’t always take the protagonist seriously.
Character development is an important component. Supporting characters in the cozy are often eccentric, or wacky, or gossipy, or memorable in other ways. And nosy town folk often prove very helpful when gathering details that put pieces of the puzzle together for solving the crime.
The plots is important. There are twists, turns, and intriguing developments along the way to solving the along the way. They tend to be fast-paced, with good humor and funny moments.
Many cozy mysteries are written as a series and center around a theme, such as cooking, knitting, crafts, hiking antiques. The cooking and crafting books include recipes and patterns for the readers.
Cozies are becoming more and more popular, particularly among women who looking for a lighter read that is entertaining, but keeps them thinking at the same time. They enjoy following the protagonist, and all she gets tangled up in.
That being said, many men love them, too. Maybe we need more male protagonists in cozies. A character like the way Peter Falk played Columbo comes to my mind. He was astute and bright, but looked disheveled and appeared to be bumbling. But Columbo was a detective, and he’d need a different occupation in a cozy. Maybe he’s returned to his hometown from a career with a city newspaper or magazine, either to retire, or to take over the family newspaper. Because of his seeming confused state, the bad guys would never suspect he’d be the one to figure out who they were and help bring them justice.
Do you have a cozy series you follow, or particular authors you enjoy? I’d love to hear about them. Christine Husom is the author of Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, and An Altar by the River.