We recently looked at Agatha Christie and her writing style and how she generally followed the rules from the Golden Age of Mysteries. Christie was definitely part of the Golden Age, but she is also listed as one of the prime examples of “Cozy” mysteries. So what is a Cozy mystery?
Cozy mysteries or “Cozies” first appeared in the late 20th century to revitalize some of the elements of the Golden Age mysteries. And many of today’s popular mysteries fall into the category of a Cozy. It’s one of my favorite categories and the mystery I’m writing is also a Cozy. What are the characteristics of this type of mystery?
First, just as with a Golden Age Mysteries all clues must be presented so the reader has a fair and equal opportunity to solve the crime. There can be the usual assortment of red herrings, but the true clues must all be presented and available for the reader to use to find the solution.
Cozies are often called “bloodless” crimes because violence, blood and gory facts are not described in detail. In many cases the body is discovered by someone other than the detective and it’s after the discovery of the body that the detective gets involved. For instance Miss Marple in Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side is at home with a foot injury when the murder occurs. It’s the other characters in the story who described the crime and bring Miss Marple the information she needs to solve the murder.
Small town atmosphere is another important element of a Cozy. In Atherton’s Aunt Dimity series, Lori Shepherd does her sleuthing in and around the small English village of Finch. As readers we learn the customs of the village and get to see the interactions between the residents and possible suspects. Sometimes the antics of village life can be a distraction, but nestled in the daily happenings are the clues.
What are the characteristics of the typical crime solver in a Cozy. The detective is an amateur and most often a woman. Since the detective is an amateur they have other professions or interests such as inn keeper, shop owner, caterer, professor or reporter. Frequently, it is their business/profession that is adversely affected by the murder and that is their motivation to solve the crime. For Instance in JoAnna Carl’s The Chocolate Cat Caper, Lee McKinney has to protect her Aunt’s chocolate business when a high profile lawyer dies after eating one of her aunt’s chocolates that is laced with cyanide. Cozy detectives just like McKinney are on the scene and know the participants and therefore are the ones most likely to find the culprit. Plus, Cozies often center on popular subjects such as cooking, antiques, chocolate, coffee, wine, art, pets and books to name a few.
Cozies, unlike the Golden Age mysteries allow romance in the story. However, the romance is never described in explicit detail. Plus, it cannot interfere with and must be secondary to solving the crime. Goldy Schulz has her Tom and Jim Qwilleran has his Polly, but these relationships assist rather than hinder the solving of the mystery.
Here are some other features common to Cozies:
- Cozy sleuths are positive people and often humorous.
- The emphasis is on puzzle-solving versus suspense.
- Typical motives for murder are greed, jealousy, or revenge and often these are rooted in past history affecting previous generations.
- Sex and violence are down-played or treated humorously
- The amateur detective is a good person and readers find it easy to identify with him or her.
- The amateur detective has faults but the faults are socially acceptable–liking drinking too much coffee or worrying about others.
- In their efforts to help others they are sometimes viewed as busy bodies.
Cozies are comfortable especially on those days when we want to curl up with a good
book. We won’t be scared or horrified by the gory details, but we will be challenged by a first-rate puzzle to solve. And at the end of the book we will feel good because the crime has been solved and justice prevails.
I’m sure there are many Cozy titles on your mystery book list that you can’t wait to read. In fact today is one of those days when I’m going to curl up with a good Cozy.