Hey, everybody! Suze here, writing to you on a beautiful fall day. Hope you’re enjoying it!
When people ask me what kind of stories I write, I tell them cozy mysteries. (I have a needs-revision contemporary romance too, and a long-way-down-the-road literary novel or two I’d like to tackle, but the mysteries are what I’m focusing on now). More often than not, I get a blank stare in return, followed by: “What’s a cozy mystery?” So today, I thought I’d try to solve that puzzle for you. I’m pretty sure you already know a cozy when you see one, but you just didn’t have a name for it. Remember Murder She Wrote? How about Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple? And of course, Nancy Drew.
There is no one definition or set of rules for this mystery subgenre, but here’s my take:
- The heroine (and it’s nearly always a heroine, not a hero) is an amateur who, for whatever reason (bad luck, nosiness) gets involved in a crime. This means she’s not a private detective or working in law enforcement. If she gets paid to find a killer, it’s not a cozy.
- The heroine is single, usually childless or with children grown and out of the nest, at least at the beginning of the series. There are exceptions (Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Bear Schultz books come to mind), but in general the heroine starts out on her own.
- The heroine has some interesting occupation that the reader can either identify with or learn more about. Goldy Schultz is a caterer. Lucy Burdette’s Hayley Snow is a food critic. Rosemary Harris’s Paula Holliday is a gardener. Sheila Connolly’s Meg Corey owns a New England apple orchard. Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen owns a cookie shop. There are series about tea shops, knitting/yarn stores, cheese sellers, soapmakers, writers — the list goes on and on. There are also some paranormal variations. Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books started out cozy-like. Heather Blake’s Wishcraft series is about a witch.
- The stories are often accompanied by recipes or craft patterns/instructions.
- Setting is extremely important. Cozies are always set in small towns, and as a series develops over time, the reader feels as though they know the village and its inhabitants intimately. You might not want to actually move there, since as an outsider your chances of getting bumped off are pretty good.
- Close to the beginning of the book, a murder occurs, either of a townsperson, or a stranger.
- The murder happens off-stage. This is crucial. In a cozy we do not see the murder happen. Our sleuth can, and often does, find the body, but that body is already dead (or dying, but in any event it is too late). There can be some on-camera violence, but it is not graphic (no heads exploding in a shower of bone and blood), and it’s usually done in self-defense.
- Likewise, sex happens off-stage. People do it in cozies all the time — we just don’t get to, um, experience it.
- There is often a love interest, but the relationship develops over the course of several books and may never actually end in marriage or an HEA. (Big difference here, between romances and mysteries)
- As for the mystery itself, there are several suspects, each of whom has a credible motive for wanting the victim dead. It’s up to the sleuth, and the reader, to figure out whodunnit.
What about you? Do you like cozies? What’s your favorite series, either on television or in books? Know of an occupation or hobby that would make a good cozy?