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What is a cozy mystery?
That may depend on your country.
As an American cozy mystery author, I've learned that the term "cozy" mystery can change depending on where you live. I've found there to be general categories of "cozy", which we shall discuss here.
The cozy mystery had its beginnings in what is now called Traditional British mystery here in the US.
Agatha Christie was the best well-known of this genre. in her stories, a British detective (professional or amateur) solved crimes by treating them as puzzles. This person would interview many people surrounding the case, using the visible clues to reveal the killer at the ending. Since she wrote her stories in an earlier age, graphic descriptions, sexuality, and cruelty was glossed over due to the social mores of the time.
British detective mysteries have changed with the times, often adding confusion when these are called "cozies" by our friends overseas.
The American cozy mystery takes the term "cozy" to its extreme. The setting must have a warm, "cozy" feel to it: a small seaside village, for example. While the characters might be going through difficult times, the book should be light-hearted at its core, with a fun, satisfying ending. In a cozy series, all loose ends that involve the book's main mystery should be neatly tied, although some personal mysteries involving the characters could be left open for later books.
There are a few major cozy sub-genres:
American cozy mysteries often include recipes, puzzles, and other supplemental material. Some even have installments featuring a pet as detective!
The main character is an intelligent (yet often quite
nosy and determined) person, usually a woman, who gets herself involved
in some local mystery. She's rarely a detective herself, but often has connections
(friends or family) in law enforcement that she can call on if needed.
Our sleuth usually has some business, hobby, or life experience making them particularly good at solving the crime in question. The main
character is good with people, gets them to talk, and knows the local
busybodies well - that's how she gets most of her information! But these
side characters (rather than being annoying or mean) are funny, charmingly
eccentric, and for the most part, friendly.
There is to be absolutely no sex, profanity, or harm to animals or children in an American cozy. The crime is almost always a murder, yet the grim details aren't focused on. Anything resembling torture or cruelty would take the story out of the "cozy" realm.
While these might be going on in the periphery, a focus on distressing real-world situations such as racism, infidelity, and police corruption would be considered out of place, leading the book to be considered "soft-boiled" (a reference to the gritty "hardboiled" mystery) rather than a "cozy".
This also marks a difference between historical mysteries (which might focus on real-world issues) and cozy mysteries set in historical times (which would generally not focus on such things).
The American cozy mystery is about solving the mystery, not about terror or suspense. While others may interfere with her, the main character must never be seriously threatened.
In my view, the American cozy mystery is close to a fantasy sub-genre.
although the police don't generally take our main character seriously, she's able to
overhear things, be ignored at crime scenes so she can see clues others
don't, and break into places then not get into trouble for it.
Interestingly (and perhaps leading credence to my view), the American cozy has split into two groups: the real-world and the paranormal. In the latter, you might find a detective interviewing ghosts, or being a witch themselves!
If you enjoy solving puzzles in a fun, light read, cozy mystery is the way to go!
Claire Logan is the author of the Myriad Mysteries, an American cozy mystery series set in a fictional 1920s Chicago.
She lives in the Central US with her spouse and children.
Follow Claire Logan on Amazon.
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Felony Fiction is sponsored by NY Times and USA Today best-selling author Patricia Loofbourrow