Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Cozy Mysteries

What is a cozy, you ask? Generally, it is a mystery set in a "cozy" setting, such as a small English village, a manor house, a train...a setting in which the suspects are gathered in a generalized location and are easy to watch and easy to contact. I think Agatha Christie invented the cozy with her Miss Marple series, and with Hercule Poirot to a lesser extent. The dastardly murder takes place off-scene, so the reader is saved the gore and grisly details, and are left with the puzzle to solve: was it the butler? the gardener? Mr Abernathy's second wife? Cozies have many red herrings, and the denouement at the end is most fun if it is a surprise and the last person the reader expected.

The Cozy genre is very popular in today's market. I belong to a Yahoo group called "Cozy Armchair Group," in which many readers and a number of authors share their thoughts and opinions on various mysteries currently in print. As I read others' opinions, my opinions become a little more finely developed. I have decided, for example, I don't like mysteries solved by cats and dogs with human cognitive thinking. That's just silly. Judging by their following, many other people really enjoy them, so it's great for those people that there authors who write those books. I have favorite authors, and I will read nearly anything these authors write: Joanne Dobson, for example, writes literary-related mysteries. I like the illusion that I am learning a little something about another subject while I am unraveling the puzzle. Another author, Barbara Michaels, also writes in this vein. Many of her mysteries have dealt with specific subject matter including Egyptology, vintage clothing, jewelry, and I absolutely love the smidgen of supernatural sprinkled into her stories. Unfortunately for me, she also writes as Elizabeth Peters, and has set a series of books in Egypt with a heroine many years ahead of herself as a Modern Woman. These books have become so predictable they aren't fun for me anymore, and these are the books that seem to sell best for her, as she throws most of her effort into grinding out more. (I realize this is heresy to her true fans--for this reason, my address will not be published.)

I like small village settings, especially England or New England: these setting provide the most likelihood for characters and resentments that can lead to mayhem. I like to have a plot that somehow transverses time...through an old journal, or the discovery of antiques, but somehow connects present time with time past.

Heroines these days, our amateur sleuths, have become cliched: they are shy young women who suddenly rear up on their haunches and take on the world. Not realistic. What about a protagonist who remains meek and mild? but still manages to unravel the details? I often find a love interest whose main role is to tell the protagonist to stay out of things and mind her own business. Wouldn't it be fun to have a hero who encourages the heroine? Someone who actually helps our sleuth? Someone who believes in her?

Another cliche these days is the title that is a terrible pun. While these punny titles do catch my attention, they don't induce me to buy. One of these days, I will be writing my own cozy, and I intend to break a couple of rules. It is a matter of getting around to it...

3 comments:

Steve said...

How about a nice little mystery set in West Branch? It's got everything you need - small town away from the bustle, a lake, a few cabins, and a cast of characters!

Cassie said...

Would those characters be our relatives?

Steve said...

Well, one of Gramma and my relatives...