Definition of a Cozy Mystery
Imagine your terror at finding out that Jessica Fletcher was moving from Cabot Cove to your neighborhood! Would you stay up at night just wondering when this unassuming, friendly woman was going to befriend you? Would you wonder which of your friends would be the first, and then second, third, even fourth to die? I have loved watching Jessica solve all the murders in Cabot Cove, and then, when she ran out of neighbors, have to move to New York. If you are reading this article about cozy mystery books, you probably have enjoyed watching Jessica solve her way through one community after the next. She is a prime example of a Cozy Mystery Heroine….
Cozy mysteries have become a booming business. Many cozy mystery readers are intelligent women looking for a “fun read” that engages the mind, as well as provides entertainment… something to “look forward to getting back to.” This is not to say that intelligent men don’t read cozies…they do!
The crime-solver in a cozy mystery is usually a woman who is an amateur sleuth. Almost always, she has a college degree, whether she is using it or not. Her education and life’s experiences have provided her with certain skills that she will utilize in order to solve all the crimes that are “thrown her way.” The cozy mystery heroine is usually a very intuitive, bright woman. The occupations of the amateur sleuths are very diverse: caterer, bed and breakfast owner, quilter, cat fancier/owner, nun, gardener, librarian, book store owner, herbalist, florist, dog trainer, homemaker, teacher, needlepoint store owner, etc. These are just a few examples of what the amateur sleuth does…. When she’s not solving crimes, that is!
The cozy mystery usually takes place in a small town or village (click here to read more on the village setting). The small size of the setting makes it believable that all the suspects know each other. The amateur sleuth is usually a very likeable person who is able to get the community members to talk freely (i.e. gossip) about each other. There is usually at least one very knowledgeable and nosy (and of course, very reliable!) character in the book who is able to fill in all of the blanks, thus enabling the amateur sleuth to solve the case.
Although the cozy mystery sleuth is usually not a medical examiner, detective, or police officer, a lot of times her best friend, husband, or significant other is. This makes a very convenient way for her to find out things that she would otherwise not have access to… Do you know any caterers or dog trainers who have access to autopsy reports? I don’t! (Unless you count some of my favorite cozy characters…)
At the same time, it is probably safe to say that the local police force doesn’t take the amateur sleuth very seriously. They dismiss her presence, almost as if she doesn’t exist. This of course, makes it convenient for her to “casually overhear” things at the scene of a crime.
More and more, cozy mystery books are being written as parts of a series. The reader becomes emotionally involved and connected with the reoccurring characters. It’s almost as if the reader is “going home” to a familiar place when she reads her next cozy mystery book in a series. (Of course, publishers of these series must enjoy knowing that fans of a series guarantee the success of each book in the series. It’s not uncommon for fans of a cozy mystery series to pre-order a book before it is available at the stores.)
In a series, it is important that the characters are likeable, so that the reader will want to visit them again. The supporting characters are equally important to the reader. It is for his reason that there are so many funny, eccentric, and entertaining secondary characters. Can you imagine wanting to read the second book in a series that has all of its characters as scummy, low-life people, perpetrating evil deeds and being downright mean all of the time?
*** Cozy mysteries are considered “gentle” books… no graphic violence, no profanity, and no explicit sex. Most often, the crime takes place “off stage” and death is usually very quick. Prolonged torture is not a staple in cozy mysteries! The victim is usually a character who had terrible vices or who treated others very badly. Dare I say…. the victim “deserved to die?” And, there are usually connections between the victims (if indeed there are multiple victims… which usually, in a cozy mystery, there are!), even though the reader is not aware of the obvious connections until the amateur sleuth solves the crimes.
*** Sex (if there is any) is always behind closed doors. It is implied…. at most! Two characters may go from having a late-night, romantic dinner to—-fast forward—-one person taking a cup of coffee up to their partner, who is enjoying the delicious luxury of sleeping in. Enough said!
Cozy mysteries tend to be fast-paced, with several twists and turns throughout each book. There are usually several red herrings to provide distracting clues to the reader. The amateur sleuth is able to sift through the clues, tossing the useless information out while analyzing the good clues. There is a lot of puzzle solving involved in a cozy mystery.
The cozy mystery puts an emphasis on plots and character development. You definitely could not convert a cozy mystery novel into an “action movie” with a lot of car chases and young, gratuitously topless actresses! An expression comes to mind that could easily differentiate the cozy mystery from other types of mysteries…………. “Brains over Brawn” every time.
*** I have to admit that lately, authors of what are considered to be Cozy Mysteries are adding more graphic language and “adult situtations” >>> I am not sure if this is because their publishers/editors want this or if it is because the public wants (buys) more “adult situtation” Cozy Mysteries.