Let’s Get Cozy!
What makes a mystery a cozy? Is it cozy because you read it in front of a roaring fire dressed in your PJs, a cup of cocoa in one hand, a book in the other? Although that is the best way to read, that’s not what defines a cozy. Then what does? Cozy mysteries share some common characteristics in that the protagonist is usually female, she is not a detective or police officer but an amateur sleuth who has helpers, and the setting is often a small town. There is romance, but no sex, and the violence is off screen. And don’t forget the punny names, like “Cookies & Scream”, “Dead & Berried”, or “Chili Con Carnage”. The most important quality for cozy mystery lovers is that these books are written as a series–sometimes as many as three dozen books featuring the same characters. Readers love to keep up with their favorites and revisit them like old friends. For that reason, the characters in a cozy mystery are generally likable and some are eccentric or quirky to keep things interesting. The protagonist is intelligent with some skillset that helps her solve the mysteries.
Because cozies are so popular, authors have had to stretch their imaginations to come up with new twists, especially when it comes to the protagonist’s line of work or the setting. There are so many culinary, food-based series that I’ve lost track. There are donut shops, coffeehouses, bakeries (and magical bakeries) (and Amish bakeries), chocolate shops, cupcake stores, tearooms, pizzerias, pie shops, popcorn shops, spice shops, pasta shops, food trucks, winemakers, and caterers. There is a micro-brewery, a maple syrup farm, a diner, a Greek restaurant, a country cooking school, and a deli. Some books also include recipes. There are inns, B & Bs–there is even a White House chef, and a vampire chef!
The settings also vary widely and include: a cruise ship, a hair salon, an animal shelter, a bookstore, a quilt shop (an Amish quit shop), a secondhand store, a costume shop, a cleaning business, a yarn store, a craft store, a garden club, a book club, a bookmobile, a library, a flower shop, and a pet store. The protagonists may have an unusual job like: jewelry designer, home renovator, actress, bounty hunter (Stephanie Plum!), a wedding planner, an attorney (like my Jamie Quinn series) or even undercover poison taster. One series is based on dead end jobs. Cozies often include a pet and cats are the fave by far, followed by dogs, horses, birds, and even a ghost cat. That segues into the paranormal cozies, which may include a witch, a ghost, a vampire or a werewolf.
So, now that you have the gist of it, what makes for an enjoyable cozy? In my opinion, a good cozy has snappy dialogue, fleshed out characters (not caricatures), and doesn’t waste a lot of time describing the curtains or what people are wearing. The plot is believable in the sense that it is logical and there aren’t crazy coincidences or tons of eavesdropping in order to gather clues. Most importantly is the mystery itself. Are the clues subtle enough that I don’t guess who done it halfway through? Are they clear enough so I don’t get to the end of the book and wonder what just happened? Do I close the book when it’s over with a smile on my face, knowing that I’ve been outsmarted once again by a clever author having loved every minute of it? That’s how I know it was a good cozy mystery. Time for a cup of hot cocoa!