Some of my favorite people read or write cozy mysteries.
It’s no wonder I like them so much. Cozy mystery readers appreciate wit and love to be thrown red herrings and misdirects as they try to solve crime right along with the protagonist. Cozy writers are a supportive group who help one another with encouragement, beta reads, reviews, and cross promotion. I’m fortunate to be part of the community as both a reader and as a writer.
My first book, “The Death Contingency”, was written as a game and never meant to be published, let alone become part of a series. It had a real estate themed cover and title as did books that followed, but the covers weren’t cohesive. After seven books in the Reagan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series that needed to change.
While searching online for ideas to redo the covers, I accidentally discovered the quintessential cozy cookbook cover. Many cozy mysteries include recipes―mine had a mysterious chocolate chip cookie recipe that my Realtor protagonist baked at open houses, but a cookbook? Me? Never. Still, that cover was so enticing, I couldn’t resist buying it.
I loved that cover so much that I showed it to a few cozy writer friends and people I’d met online in writer chat groups. “Isn’t this cute?” I asked. Not only did they say, “yes”, they asked where to send recipes from their books for the cookbook I wasn’t doing.
Then they told friends and spread the word in the cozy writer community. Recipes poured in from one-hundred-and-twenty-eight different writers, some just starting out and some long-time high profile authors. They didn’t get paid for their recipes; they donated them anyway. The result was “Cozy Food: 128 Writers Share Their Favorite Recipes.” The cookbook opened with a definition of a cozy mystery which explained exactly what cozy mysteries are and how do they work.
If you love a cozy mystery, you’ll recognize a set of standards, and if you want to write a cozy mystery, you will need to use these touchstones in your books.
- The all-important body. It’s just not a real cozy unless someone is murdered, preferably within the first two chapters. The victim may have been contemptible, may have a dangerous hidden secret in their past, may know something about their killer’s past, or may have discovered something or witnessed something which causes their demise. They can also be an innocent that the killer believes stands in the way of their goal. Finding out what caused the victim to be murdered is the primary cause of investigation for the cozy mystery protagonist.
- The cozy mystery crime solver can’t be a professional law enforcement officer, but they must have a connection with law enforcement. Her real job, a love interest, relative, or a good friend in the field work well to let the cozy protagonist make her connection. Antagonistic relationships with law enforcement are common, too.
- The sleuth will probably be reminded that she is an amateur. She doesn’t let that get in the way of her investigating. She can do things law enforcement officers can’t and find clues and correlations because she sees things with fresh eyes and has an open mind.
- Smallness is important. The amateur sleuth must investigate in a limited environment. Cozy mysteries are often set in small towns, but they can gain their smallness from other locations, for example on a cruise ship, or often from the sleuth’s day job such as book store, tea shop, or bed and breakfast owner, or the real estate community where my protagonist works to name a few.
- Sex and violence can be discussed by the characters in the cozy mystery, but graphic sex and violence and harsh language must take place off page.
- Cozy mystery readers may want their protagonist to be in peril at some point in the book, but they don’t want to be badly frightened by what they read.
- By the end of the book, the villain must be identified and often confesses to the protagonist and may offer their justification for why they killed.
- Justice in some form needs to be served for cozy mystery readers to feel satisfied.
Cozies also have fun and lively parts like:
- Quirky characters. The protagonist should have a friend or family who add humor to the read. Writing them is as much fun for the writer as they are for the reader.
- While not required, the protagonist may have pets who accompany her in her investigations. Sometimes these animals inadvertently offer clues to help her solve the mystery or even have an active voice and become investigators.
- Special skills. Witch and paranormal amateur sleuths are popular right now, but all protagonists have some special skills be they intuitive powers, being detail oriented, being great at getting information out of suspects, or being doggedly determined to solve the mystery.
- Character weaknesses and flaws. Cozy readers want their protagonists to be clever, strong, resilient, and independent, but they don’t want them to be perfect. It’s hard to identify with Sherlock Holmes, but easy to love someone who makes mistakes like real people do.
- Cozies are better if they have a dollop or a big spoonful of romance. In my newly released “Dearly Beloved Departed,” book four in my PIP Inc. Mysteries series, romance has progressed to a wedding―with cozy-style complications.
Stir all the ingredients together and you have a cozy mystery, no cooking involved!
Are you a cozy mystery reader? What are your favorite cozy mysteries? Do you have suggestions for cozy mystery writers?
My literary crime novel, The Blue Bar is on Kindle Unlimited now. Add it to Goodreads or snag a copy to make my day. The sequel, The Blue Monsoon is up for pre-orders! And if you’d like to read a book outside the series, you can check out You Beneath Your Skin. Find all info about my books on my Amazon page or Linktree.
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