by Linda Thorne
Anything you hear regarding cozy mysteries will likely slot them into a sub-genre that promises the reader escape from things objectionable, real-life hardships and horrors. Profanity is eliminated or so imperceptible to hardly be noticed. If sex is written into the book, it will always be low key and definitely off-stage. The protagonist is never physically harmed or subjected to true violence. I recently read a post online that said crime in a cozy would be “bloodless.”
The setting is a small town and characters drink tea, have cats or dogs for pets, sometimes other animals. The lead character will be a female amateur sleuth, often described as a sincerely nice person in an endearing sense. The definition offered here is what I've read in posts and articles. It’s the same when I listen to authors speak on the subject.
Okay, that said, why do the cozies I read (and write) not meet the criteria? I’ll give you some examples.
Before my debut novel, Just Another Termination, was contracted for publication, I’d submit it to agents, publishers, contests, always referencing it as a mystery. My reject letters referred to it as a cozy mystery. One year when I entered Just Another Termination in the Colorado Gold Writers Contest, one of the judges wrote notes in the margin beside my description of the first dead body, a crime scene far from “bloodless.” He said I was stepping outside the bounds of cozy. I made all the other changes both judges suggested, but held on to the initial grizzly, real life, description of the dead body as it seemed important to my story. When I found a publisher, the graphic details of my murder scene survived their edits, yet my book is still called a cozy, along with other names like traditional mystery.
Are there cozies that are a hybrid, mostly mystery with a touch of cozy? I presented the question to a panel of authors of cozies at a Killer Nashville Writers Conference many years ago, before I was published. I used Carolyn Haines’ Sarah Booth Delaney Bones series as an example. I told the group that I’d noticed Sara Booth’s sex life escalating in each new book and her consumption of Jack Daniels increasing. After some pause, one of the panel authors said, “Maybe we could call her books naughty cozies.” The whole room had a good laugh, but then the questions and responses moved back to the elements of cozies.
Goldy Schultz, the caterer protagonist in Diane Mott Davidson’s series, has been knocked down, bonked, bruised, and stabbed. She’s been left unconscious numerous times and has found herself confronted by many murderers after her. Any reader of the series should find solid reason to believe she is in true danger of physical harm or death. Often.
As for M.C. Beaton’s series character, Agatha Raisin, I’d hardly describe the character as nice. Certainly not endearing. To me, Agatha, is a fun protagonist in her sarcastic, grumpy cigarette-smoking self-centered way.
Jennie Bentley has some horrific things happen in her cozy renovation series. The skeleton of a baby is found in a crawl space above an attic, a 98 year-old woman is pushed to her death down steep stairs, and more.
In Sunny Frazier’s second book in her Christy Bristol series, Where Angels Fear, Christy gets involved in a membership-only S&M sex club. I have to say, the subject added spice to the story, but an objectionable topic to some? I would think so.
Okay, so the books I’ve mentioned are missing a lot of tea drinkers and in one way or another have taken a brazen step outside the boundary of their subgenre. Regardless, I came away from reading these books with a feeling I’d been on had a fun ride. One without gloomy afterthoughts or bad dreams. As these authors’ examples illustrate, books called cozies can move outside their definition and still hold their label, cozy, so long as they leave the reader with their hallmark - a warm and comfy feeling. It works for me.