By Librarian Alyssa at Omak
Cozy mysteries are nothing new. They have been around since Agatha Christie started writing. The genre did die down a little in the early 1900s but it became popular again in the 1990s, before dying down once more. Now it is making a strong comeback. So what is it about these books that have recaptured our readers? Is it the quirky community? The delicious food or amazing crafts that the amateurs take on? Or is it the murder itself? Honestly, it is all of this and more!
Cozy mysteries can be defined by these characteristics: an amateur sleuth and support character, location, suspect lists, and clean story.
Amateur Sleuth and Supporting Characters
Amanda Flower wrote a great article for Publisher’s Weekly on the topic of cozy mysteries. In case you are unfamiliar with Flower she is the author of The Magical Bookshop Mystery series, Amish Candy Shop Mystery series, and Magic Garden Mystery series. Until a couple of years ago she was working as an academic librarian in Ohio. With her books selling so well she was able to make the decision to leave her job and write as a full time author.
In her article she talks about how the amateur sleuth, who can be anyone, doesn’t just take on solving a crime because they have to, they do it because they want to make a difference in their community. This is something that is very important to cozy mysteries — the protagonist’s relationship with their community. In most cozy mysteries the protagonist is a female who is educated and either she is coming back to a hometown she left or is an active member of the community, either born or raised, moved to the location, or has been there for a few years. The homegrown sleuths are pretty common in a lot of cozy mysteries, such as Twisted Threads by Lea Wait. Active community members happen on occasion, like in Death by Darjeeling by Laura Childs, where the protagonist has an established business in the community and is roped into solving a crime that happened. This allows for the reader to not only grow with the character in the community but it also gives a sense of familiarity as well. We all have a connection to a community that we either live in or grew up in.
In more recent cozy mysteries there is also the character picking up their life to move to a small community. Not only do they have to learn a new job but also learn about their community as well. This gets interesting because the amateur sleuth has to get to know the community in order to find the killer, before they are next. This new community connection happened in the cozy Bait and Witch by Angela Sanders . In this book the character goes from a large city to a small community where she needs to not only learn about her new neighborhood but she also has to find a murder. By going with this angle the author also goes into how a community can embrace an outsider but also reject them solely because they were not from there, making them blind to the murder amongst them. This is a fun new aspect of cozy mysteries, especially since a lot of people are having to relocate for work making this type of cozy relatable for so many people.
The characters are also diverse in what they do! The character can be a chef, a baker, sell used clothes or make clothes, craft, and many other things. This adds to the cozy element of the stories because they are just like us. They have interests outside of work and they also have passions that, in some cases, are their income.
The supporting characters that the protagonist has around them also serve as an important cozy mystery role as the support and sometimes the Watson to their Sherlock investigation. There are usually only a few core characters that are regularly portrayed in these books allowing for the reader to get to know these characters very well. They become like someone we know or would love to meet up with for coffee. This sort of character development draws the reader in.
Now let’s talk about romantic interests. In most cases the romantic interest is usually a cop, detective, first responder, medical personal, or something related to the crime investigation. There are a couple of series where this mold is broken, such as Victoria Gilbert’s Blue Ridge Mystery Series.
In Gilbert’s series, the protagonist falls for a dance instructor, who happens to live next door. This sort of break from the more traditional cozy mold is something that is happening more often now. This evolution of the cozy is wonderful because it also shows a shift in readers and who is writing these books. Whoever the love interest is they usually worry about the protagonist as they bumble around an investigation but no matter what they usually stand by their amateur sleuth if things get sticky.
Location, Location, Location
Most of the cozy mysteries are set in small towns or cities that do not actually exist. Once I was reading a blog from an author who had written a cozy mystery and she talked about an argument she had with a fan because the fan was convinced that the town she had written about was real, this was of course before Google. The author went on to write about how no matter how hard she tried to convince the fan otherwise the fan did not believe her. She humorously wrote how she wasn’t upset that the fan didn’t believe her because it meant that she painted such a clear picture of this fake town that the fan was convinced that she had driven through that exact place. By making up a place to write their stories the author is given freedom to craft the town to fit their purpose. This also gives the reader a mental place to escape to.
When you think about the locations of a lot of these cozy mysteries they are usually set in cute towns with small town problems. Now there are some cute towns that authors write about that are actually real, such as Ellie Alexander’s Sloan Krause series which takes place in Leavenworth, Washington. This is another example of how the genre is evolving with time. I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up with more cozy mysteries that are centered around real places, especially since there are a lot of adorable locations out there.
When you read a mystery it is enjoyable to try and figure out who did it before the end of the book. Each red herring is analyzed to determine if the author is misleading you, or not, and the number of suspects can vary. Now in cozy mysteries your suspect list is usually pretty small. This allows the reader to not only follow the clues but to wonder about motives of the people surrounding the sleuth. This adds to the mystery and makes cozy mysteries fun for the reader. Sometimes you figure out who did it before the end of the book, but that doesn’t take away from the experience. Instead, the characters in the books help add to the mystery.
The other enjoyable part of the suspect list is that you can understand why the suspect did what they did. There is a human factor that is always involved, which means an emotional response or “it made sense at the time/it was the only solution I could think of” sort of situation. Without giving away who the suspect is here are some cozy suspects that were compelling to read:
- A Spell for Trouble by Esme Addison
- Murder Wears Mittens by Sally Goldenbaum
- Death by Dumpling by Vivian Chein
- The Copenhagen Connection by Elizabeth Peters
This is just to name a few of the great cozy mysteries with a compelling suspect list.
Cozy mysteries generally have no cussing, no sex, and no explicit graphic scenes. This allows for the story to be more about plot, characters, and everyday issues that come up. Cozy mysteries are about fun and mystery solving. They are fun books to read and you are left at the end with a sense of accomplishment since the bad guy was caught, the character developed, and life can go back to normal. This is why it is called a cozy mystery, because you are left feeling happy and lighthearted.
There is a lot a person can say about this genre of books. If you are still reading I hope this will encourage you to check out a cozy mystery. We have a lot in the system, both physical and digital, so you can always find something to read. If you are wanting to try out a cozy mystery but you are not sure about the options listed in this blog, ask your local librarian! They would love to sleuth out a good cozy for you to enjoy.