Cozy murder mysteries usually fly off the shelves of bookstores, and fans often pre-order them when their favorite authors advertise new books soon to be published. The cozy mystery is a subgenre of crime fiction, and as in all crime narratives, the cozy presents a crime that must be solved. This particular subgenre omits graphic sex and violenceand is becoming increasingly popular with readers of both sexes and all ages. If you haven’t discovered it yet, it’s time you took a look!
Crime Fiction has Many Subgenres, Including the Cozy
Crime fiction, in general, can be very dark with plots that may include serial killers who commit sadistic sexual crimes, or ritualistic murders and even cannibalism; or plots may describe the horrors of human trafficking; or the investigation of the kidnapping and murder of a child; or deal with the multi-crimes that accompany drug trafficking. The central character is usually a detective or a police officer.
Crime fiction includes not only these whodunits, but also thrillers, which take the reader on the scramble to solve a crime before another victim perishes or before a bomb destroys another building, which increases the level of tension. More recently, we have seen the rise of psychological murder mysteries in the thriller category, where one or more of the characters is unstable or delusional, and reality is blurred for the readers as well as for the characters, such as in Girl On A Train.
In comparison to hard-boiled crime whodunits, thrillers, and psychological thrillers, the appeal of a cozy murder mystery is that it can be read at night when you are all alone, wrapped in a blanket with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, your cat curled up beside you and your dog napping at your feet. You don’t have to put your book down when the plot thickens to check that your doors and windows are locked!
Cozy Murder Mysteries Have Distinctive Characteristics
The characteristics of cozy mysteries appeal to readers who like the challenge of working to find the solution to a murder mystery along with the main character, who may be a real detective or a gifted amateur. These books are usually written in a series with the main characters and many of the secondary characters returning in each book. To engage the reader, a cozy must have:
- A likable main character, usually female but sometimes male
- A police officer, a coroner or a contact who can supply information normally kept from the public and is connected to the main character in some way
- Likeable and quirky secondary characters that anyone might know
- A plot with lots of twists and turns and clues, some of which are red herrings
- An emphasis on the plot, character development, and a touch of humor
- A setting where the characters meet, know each other, or know abouteach other
- A mystery that is always solved and justice always served
One of the earliest best-selling cozy murder mystery authors was Agatha Christie whose books are still very popular; however, there are many new, gifted writers in the field today.
These are the Popular Subgenres of Cozies
The titles of cozies often reveal the setting and the cover illustrations may do that as well. Puns are popular and plays on words are often chosen for titles. Murders take place in environments that are usually restricted in some way, such as in small towns or in small areas within larger towns. Characters, including the murderer, are often linked by an organization, a neighborhood, a business, a sport, a club, or by a popular store or meeting place. The characters are everyday people that anyone might know.
Themed Cozies– announce themselves by the cover illustrations, titles, and pastimes with which anyone can identify. Here are a few examples:
- Animals– Cats and dogs and other pets help the main character solve the mystery by uncovering clues:
- The Cat Who Played Post Officeby Lillian Jackson Braun
- Pouncing on Murderby Laurie Cass
- Crafts and Hobbies– The important characters and the victim will be involved in a particular craft or hobby:
- Sewing – Dangling by a Threadby Lea Wait
- Quilting – Quilt Tripby Elizabeth Craig
- Book Clubs – Reading the Cluesby Charlotte Carter
- Knitting – Murder She Knit by Peggy Ehrhart
- Culinary– Food or beverages, their consumption or production is a link for many cozies:
- Murder at the Tea Partyby Sonia Parin
- Murder with Cucumber Sandwiches by Karen Rose Smith
Other Cozies– usually have titles and illustrations that simply identify them as murder mysteries, but often announce they are cozies on the front or back cover. These are books where the main character is a detective or has a career that allows the amateur investigator freedom to move around, to meet people, and to ask questions. Here are a few examples:
- Professional Baker – Hannah Swensen in Fudge Cupcake Murderby Joanne Fluke
- Editor/Writer – Rachel Mathews in Murder on a Mondayby Maureen Grenier
- Detective – Agatha Grape in Something Borrowed, Someone Deadby MC Beaton
- Restaurant Owner – Amy Flowers in The Calamity Caféby Gayle Leeson
Cozy murder mystery readers are generally smart people who are inquisitive puzzle solvers. They know what is in store for them in each book: the murderer is not revealed until the end of the story; the investigator of the crime, professional or amateur, is someone who is brave, trustworthy, and cares about people; the reader will accompany the sleuth on the journey to find a solution to the mystery; there will be touches of humor throughout the story; the ending may be a surprise but will be satisfying and make sense; and each book in the series will be a happy reunion with characters the reader already knows.
Does this sound like your kind of book? If you have never read a cozy murder mystery, it’s time you took the plunge. You’ll be a fan in no time!
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