I've read more than 30 books so far this year and I'd like to pretend most or even some are LI-TER-A-TOOR, but no, I've been on a cozy mystery kick for about 8 months now.
Funny story: my first "cozy" was an advance reader copy someone dropped in our Little Free Library last year. I didn't know about this genre at all at the time, and I don't remember the name of the book or the author, but I DO remember thinking, "good lord why are we talking about walking the dog so much?" Now I can tell you why: that's a cozy mystery trope.
What is a cozy mystery? The nutshell answer is that it's a murder mystery with no gory descriptions of a body, and it might have some romance, but no S-E-X, or if there is, it's "off camera". No suffering through questionable or eye rolling scenes a la Laurell K Hamilton.
I love all kinds of mysteries, and have read everything from Dean Koontz to Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child to Kathy Reichs. Not a big fan of cops IRL but I love a police procedural or an eccentric FBI agent. I love medical/forensic/anthropology thrillers. I read In Cold Blood in high school, and used to spend hours on the old Crime Library way before true crime podcasts were a thing. I have always had an interest in serial killers and cult leaders (because I have a psychology degree and we're weird like that). I also love a good supernatural urban fantasy mystery like Patricia Briggs. I'm not at all squeamish.
But there is just something about a cozy mystery that is like a nice chocolate pudding for the brain. They are, in a word, formulaic. Cozy mysteries are the book form of a Hallmark Channel mystery, and people like them for the same reasons.
In the past 8 months I've read only 2 different authors (one of them writing more than 25 different books in 5+ series and 2 names), but here are the Cozy Mystery conventions in my limited experience:
* The protagonist is invariably female and "average looking" but her best friend is a stunner who either looks like Cindy Crawford (model) or Kristin Chenowith (tiny and adorable)
* The completely average main character just move to (or back to) a charming small town after a divorce or break up, to start a new life as a [insert niche small town occupation]
* Said small town must be small enough that everyone knows everyone else and their personal life, but large enough to support a Main Street full of niche shops like book stores, tea rooms, bakeries, cheese shops, etc even through the winter months
* The population must be large enough that a murder every other month is like, bad luck, but not a crime wave.
* The victim is often unlikable, so there are a handful of suspects with motive, one of them a friend or family member of the main character
* Our heroine must get involved because the police are inept/lazy. However if this is a series and long term animosity with the police won't play (small town and all), then the detective eventually and begrudgingly realizes that people will tell their personal biz to the amateur sleuth (but the police will still keep telling her not to get involved).
* There should be a cat and/or dog. The cat probably lives in the library or shop, but the dog needs to be walked 3x a day so the protagonist can meditate on murder.
* The murder happens at the 1/3 mark and our heroine gets close enough to figuring out the murderer, without figuring out the murderer, at the 2/3 mark. Seriously, without fail, when my Kindle says 71% I know something exciting is about to happen.
Looking for a new favorite series? Here are some of mine:
Vicki Delany's Sherlock Bookshop series - Beware, this series will increase your to-read list exponentially! Gemma Doyle is a modern day Sherlock Holmes who co-owns a bookshop and tea room with her best friend. The author name drops many, MANY other writers and books. This got me reading classic Sherlock Holmes, as well as listening to the audiobooks read by Stephen Fry, and introduced me to "Holmes pastiche" and "gaslight" genres as well.
Eva Gates Lighthouse Library series - Eva Gates and Vicki Delany are actually the same person. This series follows Lucy Richardson, assistant director of the Bodie Island Lighthouse Library. I love the reimagining of a real lighthouse with a fictional interior. As she says, it's like the Tardis: bigger on the inside! This series often needs sharper editing, and yet I keep going back because the characters and setting are so comfortable (cozy).
Donna Andrews Meg Lanslow Mysteries - I discovered this series when I was browsing for a "bird themed book" for the public library Adult Reading Challenge. This series is as quirky as its bird themed titles, and I appreciate that Donna Andrews seems to be a pretty big nerd. I'm currently on a book that takes place at a convention for a TV show and her con details are 100% spot on.
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