Cozy Mystery

Southeastern Reader’s Advisory Roundtable members finished off the group’s first year of studying the mystery genre on June 8, with a discussion of what makes a mystery “cozy,” and about the benchmark title Real Murders by Charlaine Harris.

Thank you to Irene and Patty for hosting and providing a great array of treats for us at the Morrill Memorial Library, Norwood!

Online readings we talked about:

1. Not Your Usual Suspects: Genre Spotlight: Mystery
Only a small part of this article is actually about cozies, but it’s a good overview of new titles in the mystery genre to cap off our first genre study year. (Written by Kristi Chadwick of MLS!)

2. Murder Least Foul: The Cozy, Soft-Boiled Mystery
This New York Times article from 1992 generated a lot of discussion, as some of the female authors mentioned (e.g. Martha Grimes) seemed to be labeled cozy writers just because they were women writing mysteries. The article equates soft-boiled and cozy, and we talked about how the two types of mystery are different and how to tell what type and quantity of violence a reader wants in a mystery. A traditional, amateur sleuth mystery (benchmark author=Agatha Christie) isn’t necessarily a cozy, even if the violence is muted and/or offstage.

3. Definition of a Cozy Mystery
4. What is a Cozy Mystery?

  • Cozies are not realistic, but author still should “play fair” with the reader
  • There’s usually no sense of imminent danger
  • “I read cozies more for the characters and their lives.”
  • Usually a small town feel, idealized. “I want to live in her world for a while.”
  • Cozy readers often have definite preferences. “I don’t want any cats.”

We also read part of Chapter 4 (pages 52-55) from The Mystery Readers’ Advisory by John Charles, Candace Clark, and Joanna Morrison.

It seemed that cozy mysteries were associated in some of our minds with “mystery lite” and it was a surprise to find that a good cozy can be a satisfying mystery.

cover imageBenchmark Title
We talked about Real Murders by Charlaine Harris, which deviated a little from the strict definition of a cozy, we thought, especially near the end with the heroine facing imminent danger. Some members, especially the non-cozy readers, were surprised to like the book as much as they did. The main character and narrator Aurora was appealing to some in the group and not to others.

Who would you recommend Real Murders to? Readers of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series and Marianne McDonald’s series starting with Death’s Autograph were suggested. NoveList recommends Sandra Balzo’s Maggy Thorsen series, and M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series, among others.

Next Year
We also talked about what to do for next year’s genre study. A number of possibilities were mentioned: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance, Action/Adventure, Graphic Novels, and a second year of Mystery. The genre has to have enough subgenres to cover five meetings and should be  mainstream enough that it won’t scare off all the new members that we want to attract next year! Ideally, it would be one that we get the most patron questions on, but there’s a possibility that we don’t get asked about some genres because it’s assumed by the reader that we won’t know anything!

Host libraries are needed for next year, every other month from October to June. So far, Mattapoisett and Brockton have volunteered their meeting spaces, so we need three more. We plan to meet on Wednesday mornings, 10-12.

Second Titles
Some of the cozies that we heard about:

Murder by Mocha by Cleo Coyle
Not realistic or gory. Recipes and coffee-making tips in the back! (Patty)

Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson
No cats or cooking! Law firm is the nucleus. Good for traditional mystery readers who don’t like gore. (Irene)

Murder at Fenway Park by Troy Soos
Local interest, is more about baseball history than the mystery. Moves quickly but may be more historical mystery than cozy. (Jean)

Shadows on a Cape Cod Wedding by Lea Wait
Local interest, fictional Cape Cod town. Detective character is police chief’s wife. Definitely a cozy, lots about antiques. #6 in a series, OK to jump in in the middle of the series. (Susan)

Steamed by Jessica Conant-Park and Susan Conant
As much chick lit as cozy mystery. Set in Boston, but restaurant world is the small community where everyone knows each other. Enjoyable as a rom com and for foodie talk. First in series, written by mother-daughter team. (Laurie)

Death of a Cozy Writer by G.M. Malliet
English country manor house setting. Locked room mystery, an homage to Agatha Christie. Lots of puzzle pieces. Will appeal to cozy readers and readers of traditional mysteries who want something lighter. (Miki)

Aunt Dimity’s Death by Nancy Atherton
This mystery is “super cozy” and really sweet. First in a series. Set in an English country cottage with a stuffed rabbit on the cover. “You can hand this one to anyone and they won’t be offended.” Some paranormal. (Galen)

Away with the Fairies by Kerry Greenwood
1920s English setting, not a village. Phryne Fisher (main character) is poised and rich. Has a large staff and is in a relationship with the police chief. There’s “definitely a sex scene” but fits cozy mold otherwise. 11th in series. (Amy)

Designated Daughters  by Margaret Maron
North Carolina small town setting. Main character/detective is a judge; she’s married to the police chief. “Everyone knows everyone, if they’re not related, and they probably all go to the same church.” Author gives all the clues, but didn’t guess murderer. #19 in series. (Maggie)

Pride and Prejudice by Joan Hess
Humorous, small town setting, likeable main character. #20 in Claire Malloy series. Main character, newly married to the police chief, doesn’t get onto a jury and decides to solve the murder to get back at the prosecutor. Lots of subplots, and lots of clues, but found it slow at times. (Paula)

Please remember to add your second titles on the blog! (The number of second title submissions has been dwindling, so please add any from past meetings that you didn’t add yet, also.)

A related question for the group was posed, “What fiction titles have a strong female main character who is not a victim and/or was not abused in the past?” (If you have answers, please give them in the comments.)

Our reader’s advisory-related discussion questions for Real Murders are posted here.


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