In any murder mystery—a mystery in the category of crime fiction—there is at least one murder, one or more people trying to find the killer, clues, red herrings, and finally a solution. A cozy mystery is a subgenre of crime fiction, and has particular characteristics, which separates cozies from hardcore crime fiction.
My latest book, Murder on a Monday, and the book I am currently completing, Murder on a Tuesday, have all the significant cozy murder mystery characteristics.
Characteristics That Define “Cozy “Murder Mysteries
Most mystery readers have encountered the “cozy” genre but may not have realized it. The most popular cozy mystery murder author is the well-known Agatha Christie, whose name wasn’t associated with the term because it wasn’t used when her books became best sellers in the 1940s, the “Golden Age” of detective fiction. However, the cozy is now a recognized category of mystery fiction, and has been since the 1990s. If you are drawn to this sub-genre of crime fiction, you can easily recognize these types of murder mysteries:
- There is no graphic violence. When the murder occurs, it is often off-stage, so to speak, or happens quickly and is described in a matter-of-fact way. You are not told which ventricle of the heart the bullet penetrated, or treated to any other gory details.
- Sex, if there is any, happens behind closed doors, and is usually referred to indirectly or gently.
- There is only mild profanity, and always a good bit of humor.
- The crime solver is usually, but not always, a woman, and is usually, but not always, an amateur detective. The reason I’m using the term “usually, but not always” is because of MC Beaton’s famous Hamish Macbeth, a village constable in the Scottish Highlands, and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, a professional detective. There are a few other cozy writers who don’t employ female amateur detectives, but most do. And, believe it or not, a great many fans are male readers.
- The sleuth is clever, imaginative, and very likeable, and her flaws are minor. She usually has a college or university degree and life experiences that prepare her for the job of analyzing clues and the people involved. She has an occupation or a hobby that gives her an excuse for being where she needs to be to follow the leads wherever they take her, and to overhear useful conversations.
- The setting is a village or a community within a small city where the suspects know each other or know of each other.
- Our amateur sleuth receives support from a good friend or several friends, some quirky acquaintances, and has help from someone connected to the police force or the medical examiner’s office who passes along important information when needed. Her involvement in the case is usually dismissed as meddling and risky by the police force in general.
- The story is fast-paced with twists and turns and the emphasis is on the plot and the development of the characters. The killer is rarely evil, but believes the only way out of a situation is murder. When apprehended, the killer is usually docile and explains the motives behind all the critical actions. The reader learns who and why, and all is revealed.
Cue Murder on Monday
- Our amateur sleuth is Rachel Mathews, editor and co-owner of a business magazine, and she is aided in her pursuit of a murderer by friend and business partner, Donna O’Hare.
- The setting is beautiful Victoria, a city of 86,000 residents with a metropolitan area of 368,000, nestled on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, a ferry ride away from the well-known City of Vancouver. A small two-story building which houses the office of the two friends is comfortably located in a residential area beside the treed acreage of an imposing seniors’ residence.
- When horrified Rachel and Donna discover the body of the young manager of the residence slumped in the stairwell of their office building, the hunt for a killer is on. The police investigate but have trouble finding the murder weapon or anyone with a motive for killing the young woman. Although hampered by natural shyness, Rachel feels compelled to seek for explanations because she can’t convince Donna that handsome David, son of the seniors’ residence owner, is a possible suspect and to keep her distance.
- Rachel befriends two elderly residents of the seniors’ home who share useful gossip, unexpected help comes from a former hippy who moves into her apartment building, and various other people provide information, including her sister who insists Rachel read a book on how to protect herself if assaulted. It doesn’t hurt that Rachel catches the interested attention of the senior police officer in charge of the case who drops her a few useful hints.
- Rachel puzzles over why Jody was murdered in their building, who hated her enough to kill her, or who might consider her dangerous to them, or who would benefit from her death. Will the case be solved before Donna’s attraction to a prime suspect proves fatal?
- The reader also searches for the identity of the murderer along with Rachel, mulling over the clues, being distracted by the red herrings and the growing list of suspects, and shares her shock when she comes face to face with the killer.
And that, my friends, is what a cozy murder mystery is all about.
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