Once upon a time, I shared seven reasons why you should read cozy mysteries, but I realized that I hadn’t explained exactly what a cozy mystery is. And I probably should because it’s a question I’m frequently asked once someone finds out that I’m a writer.
Often the person asking will get a blank look on their face when I say, “cozy mysteries.” I then follow up with, “You know, like Murder She Wrote and Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books.” They usually nod their head after that. Cozy mysteries might not be their cup of tea, but at least they now have an idea about what it is that I write.
If someone wants to dig deeper into what the cozy mystery genre is all about, I usually share some of the common themes or tropes:
1 – Cozies feature an amateur sleuth, as opposed to someone with professional credentials such as a law enforcement officer, medical examiner, lawyer, private detective etc.
2 – The sleuth often has a sidekick who helps her solve the murder. Notice how I said “her?” If you had to place a bet on whether the protagonist of a cozy you were about to pick up was male or female, I’d go with female. But, while the sleuths are often women, there are a number of great cozy series out there that feature male sleuths.
3 – One of my favorite things about cozy mysteries is the quirky supporting cast. I love getting to know the secondary characters over the course of a series.
4 – You’ll often find cozies have a small town or village setting. Everyone knows each other and everyone knows each other’s business. However, this isn’t always the case. I’ve read a few series set in large cities and I think it works just as well.
5 – One of the reasons I decided to write my own cozy mysteries was so that I could share them with my mother. And the only way I’d share my books with my mom is if they were clean and gentle reads. Otherwise, it’d just be too embarrassing. If there’s any sex, it’s usually implied and takes place behind closed doors. And violence is kept to a minimum. Sure, a murder usually takes place, but the author doesn’t dwell on the blood and gore of it all. You also won’t typically find naughty words.
6 – At their heart, cozy mysteries are puzzles with plenty of clues and red herrings for the reader to collect as they try to solve the mystery themselves.
7 – Cozy readers love series. They want to get drawn into the world the author has created, following the adventures (and misadventures) of the amateur sleuth and the supporting characters as they develop and grow over time.
8 – Most of all, cozy mysteries are fun reads. They’re a chance to escape for a little while from the realities of life. Why not ignore that pile of clothes that needs to be folded and those dishes that need to be washed for a little while. Run a bubble bath, pour a glass of wine, and relax over a good mystery.
Now, having said all that, I’ve been seeing some really interesting discussions as of late on some Facebook writing groups about the definition of cozy mysteries.
Is it okay to have some swearing? Can you have a little bit of steamier romance? Is there such a thing as an “edgy cozy”? Does your protagonist have to be an amateur? Do you have to feature a pet, hobby, craft, and/or cooking? Does there have to be a murder? And so on and so on.
It’s been really fascinating to consider what the boundaries of the cozy mystery genre are and how it has evolved over time.
2 thoughts on “What is a Cozy Mystery?”
It seems to me that, the more you change it from the original definition, the more like any other mystery it will become. If some want to add sex, violence, and cussing, perhaps they need a separate genre of their own.
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You make a good point. When I pick up a cozy, I have certain expectations. If there’s explicit sex, violence etc. then it takes me out of the story because I didn’t expect to encounter it.