What Is a Cozy Mystery? And Why Am I Writing One?

cozy mystery section - barnes and noble
Sorry, the pic is a little blurry. I was trying to snap a photo before my teen noticed I was taking pictures at the bookstore. 🙂

I can’t believe how long it’s been since my last post but I have a good excuse — I’ve been revising and polishing my first novel, a cozy mystery. I’m so excited to complete this process because I love, love, love cozy mysteries and have wanted to write one for years. Still, many people don’t know what cozy mysteries are.

In the past few years, cozy mysteries have skyrocketed in popularity. They even have their own section at Barnes and Noble. Some bestselling cozies (such as those by Joanne Fluke) have been optioned by Hallmark Movie and Mystery into a series of movie specials — a trend I personally enjoy.

Paperback versions of cozies have artistic, beautifully rendered covers designed to draw you into their charming, albeit, murderous world. When they’re done well, cozy mysteries are charming, spine-tingling and they can even make you hungry — lots of cozies (including the one that I’m writing) feature food and recipes.

What puts the “cozy” into a cozy mystery? By definition a cozy mystery takes place in a confined setting such as a small town or village. The towns are usually small enough that most residents know each other or they know of each other. Cozies feature an amateur sleuth who gets drawn into a case, usually due to some personal stake in the crime — normally a murder.

What makes cozy mysteries different from “village” mysteries ala Agatha Christie is slim, but most modern-day cozy mysteries have a few specific characteristics. They generally (not always) feature a female sleuth with a specific skill, hobby or job that is as significant as a character in the way it permeates the book. Cozy mystery settings also act as a character, creating obstacles or opportunities for our heroes. The violence occurs offstage for the most part and while there may be some romance, there’s no graphic sex or bad language. Since all of the above seems to dominate our entertainment sphere these days, I think some people probably find this refreshing.

Cozy mysteries are known and loved for their likeable protagonist (and corresponding colorful players) who is tested throughout the course of the novel. Quirky, extreme and eccentric characters are some of my favorite types to be found in a cozy — and they frequently provide the humor that cozy readers crave.

Here’s the main thing that distinguishes a cozy from suspense, thrillers or more graphically violent mysteries: at the end, order is always restored. The idyllic setting that was disrupted by a crime is once again brought back to its beauty and peace. One agent I read about described cozies as Paradise, Paradise Lost, Paradise Re-Gained (and I may be paraphrasing). A thriller or other type of crime novel may not have a resolved ending and indeed, some of my favorite do not. Life is full of loose ends. Cozies are not. The loose ends are tied up and frankly, that can be extremely satisfying after a long, stressful day.

I am drawn to cozy mysteries because of all of the above conceits and after finding myself reading them by the dozens, I decided it was time to write my own.

What’s so fun and rewarding to me about writing my current cozy is the world and characters I’ve created. It’s a place I’d want to visit with people I’d want to meet — thankfully, my beta readers seem to feel the same way. Plus, the knowledge that I can restore order to my character’s world can make the real world seem a little more manageable.

I love psychological suspense (e.g., Ruth Rendell, one of my all-time favorite authors. I’m so sad about her recent passing), contemporary thrillers such as Gone Girl and other darker types of mystery and crime. But cozies hold a special place in my heart because revisiting beloved characters in a series is truly like visiting old friends. You may not be at home, but with a cozy in hand you can feel like you are.

If you’re interested in a comprehensive list of current and old cozy mysteries, you must visit this fantastic web site: Cozy-Mystery.com. It even contains a much more comprehensive definition of cozy mysteries than I have detailed here.

If you are a cozy mystery reader, what are some of your favorites? And what draws you to a series over and over again — or will prompt you to try a new one?

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