The holiday season always reminds me of my mother’s sugar cookies, warm sweaters, and cozy mysteries—novels, short stories, Hallmark Movie Mysteries—any variety will do. I love sipping an Eggnog Latte curled under a warm blanket reading (or watching) a good cozy mystery while the rest of the world rages outside. There’s something about the familiar stories, the likable characters, and the happily-ever-after-endings—where a crime is solved, justice is served, and everything is right with the world again—that I find comforting. If the story is holiday-themed that’s even better. So, what makes cozy mysteries different than other types of mysteries? And why are they so popular, especially this time of year?
What is a Cozy Mystery?
“An amateur sleuth, an unsuspecting victim, a quirky supporting cast, and trail of clues and red herrings are the main ingredients of a cozy mystery,” says bestselling and Agatha Award winning mystery author Amanda Flower in an article she recently penned for Publishers Weekly. There is no graphic violence, no profanity, no explicit sex. The murder is either bloodless or occurs before the story begins. Books by Agatha Christie and the television show, Murder She Wrote, are often cited as classic examples.
The protagonist is a likable female heroine—generally a series character—who cares about people, likes puzzles, and has a hobby or job that she uses to solve a crime. Two examples of gutsy cozy mystery heroines are Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swenson who leverages her baking expertise to crack mysteries, and Dana Cameron’s Emma Fielding who uses her expertise as an archeologist to solve crimes.
Cozy mysteries often take place in small towns where everyone knows each other. There is a limited suspect list which makes it realistic that the sleuth knows the killer. Towns in cozy mysteries are quaint, charming, and often feel like another character in a series. Lawrenceton, Georgia—the setting in Charlaine Harris’ Aurora Teagarden Mysteries—is one of my favorite fictional towns.
The villain in cozy mysteries isn’t a bad person at heart, but rather someone pushed to their limits who makes bad choices—choices that usually include murder. The amateur sleuth’s quest for the truth not only gives us insight into the villain, but offers universal lessons about our own humanity.
The role secondary characters play in cozy mysteries are often the same. Cozy protagonists are generally not taken seriously by the police. They usually have a sidekick—best friend, boyfriend—who is a detective, police officer, or law enforcement professional. Through this secondary character, the amateur sleuth gains access to information that normally would not be available. The protagonist is also not the only one who fights the crime or is in pursuit of the truth. The community of secondary characters come together to ensure justice is served.
In cozy mysteries there is “fair play,” meaning the puzzle of the story is solvable before the villain is revealed. Clues are sprinkled through the story—often buried in details and obscured by red herrings—and readers can solve the crime before or along with the sleuth.
Cute Covers with Punny Titles
Cozy mysteries are branded with cute covers and punny-titles that often relate to the mystery or the protagonist’s hobby or story locale. Donna Andrews titles—Gone Gull, Some Like it Hawk, and Toucan Keep a Secret—are some of my favorites.
Beyond the Story
Many cozy authors include bonus material for their readers (recipes, gardening tips, knitting patterns, special content sites, etc). Extras are often related to the protagonist’s job, hobby, or mystery in their stories. A wonderful touch, it’s also a way writers encourage readers to engage in their favorite past times while creating a connection with their fans that goes beyond the story.
Where to find cozy mysteries?
Cozy mysteries are carried in bookstores and the usual online retailers. But cozy mystery publishers also offer unique opportunities too. Kensington, a top publisher in the cozy mystery market, hosts mini-conventions for cozy mystery fans where they can purchase books and meet their favorite authors. The mystery fan convention, Malice Domestic, held annually in the Washington D.C. area, is another unique place to look for great cozy mysteries. And Hallmark publishing recently created their own paperback and e-book cozy mystery line. Reader blogs, like dru’s book musings, are another resource for information on the latest cozy mystery releases and fan favorites.
So, why are cozy mysteries so popular?
“The cozy lesson is an average person can make a difference,” says Amanda Flower. For me, this is an important message in today’s turbulent world. Cozy mysteries give us hope and make us feel that each of our contributions matter. They are also a wonderful reminder of the importance of family, friendship, community, and kindness which is the true spirit of the holiday season.
Do you read cozy mysteries? Which are your favorites?
Stacy Woodson writes crime fiction stories. She is a U.S. Army veteran and memories of her time in the military serve as an inspiration for her stories. A Daphne du Maurier winner and Publishers Weekly contributor, her story, “Duty, Honor, Hammett,” will appear in the Nov-Dec issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. You can find her at www.stacywoodson.com.