The traditional mystery is sometimes referred to as a cozy mystery, as I explained in last month’s The Mystery of Mysteries post on the 12 steps to writing a traditional mystery. However, that seems to be more of a U.K. designation. In the U.S., cozy mysteries have special elements that differentiate them from traditional mysteries.
Cozy mysteries are among the most popular of the sub-genres. I suspect a large part of the appeal is that the focus is on the crime solved by every day folks like us who reluctantly participate and solve the mystery using common sense.
Also, since most cozies are series books, readers have lots of time to engage with characters across books. They can become quite familiar to fans who eagerly compete with the amateur sleuth to solve the crime first. Most cozies also let the reader learn new information since they tend to be theme-oriented.
Many of the elements of the traditional mystery appear in other sub-genres of mystery. Cozies are a variant on the theme. In the list below, the first seven elements are the same in cozies and traditional mysteries, but to make your mystery a cozy, you need to add in nine more elements.
1) Cozy mysteries are always a puzzle to solve.
2) All clues are revealed to the reader but obscured with red herrings and false leads.
3) Cozy mysteries feature a murder (most often) or a crime of great substance.
4) The victim typically is not admirable, thus the crime, if not justifiable, is often understandable.
5) The murder or other significant crime often occurs very near the beginning, in the opening pages. But not always. Cozies can introduce the murder well into the story.
6) Murders take place “off stage” so there is little or no explicit violence or gore described.
7) Cozy mysteries use plot devices to further the confusion of clues, suspects, and timelines.
8) The reluctant and very clever amateur sleuth uses common sense to solve the mystery, and is drawn into solving the crime by circumstances.
9) The villain is clever and smart but not equal to the sleuth.
10) Cozy mysteries are most often set in a small town or rural setting so you get to know residents across books.
11) Almost all cozy mysteries are a series.
12) The cozy mystery series usually has a theme or an occupation or a hobby to tie it together.
13) Cozies involve more active crime solving than traditional mysteries. Readers want more than somebody being interviewed. Cozies have more action and dangerous situations. However, they are still considered light reading in the mystery realm.
14) Whereas cozies are generally G-Rated, they have evolved to where there may be mild cursing and the mention of sex “off stage”.
15) Cozies often have humorous components and/or quirky characters.
16) Cozy mysteries often have punny titles tied to the theme/occupation/hobby of the series. My culinary mysteries for example have titles of Mission Impastable, Prime Rib and Punishment, Potluck, Cooks in the Can, and Ancient Grease.
If you want to start writing cozies, here are some cozy mystery authors to get you started. Note the elements as you read.
- Sharyn McCrumb
- Carolyn G. Hart
- Joan Hess
- Elizabeth Peters
- Nancy Pickard
- Margaret Maron
- Rhys Bowen
- Hank Phillipi Ryan
- Diane Mott Davidson (caterer, culinary)
- Kate Ross (1820’s London)
- Jerrilyn Farmer (caterer, culinary)
- Julie Spencer-Fleming (Episcopal priest)
- Jan Burke (reporter)
- Jacqueline Winspear (early 20th century psychologist sleuth)
- Katherine Hall Page (caterer, culinary)
This is just scratching the cozy surface! Search Amazon “BOOKS” with your favorite pastime + cozy mystery and see what turns up.