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A Brief Tour into the World of Cozy Mystery Authors

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P.N. Hinton

Contributing Editor

Born into a family of readers, P.N. gained a love reading as a sort of herd mentality. This love of reading has remained a life long passion, resulting in an English Degree from The University of Houston in Houston, Texas. She normally reads three to four books at any given time, in the futile Sisyphean hope of whittling down her ever growing to be read pile of no specific genre.

Cozy mysteries are one of my catnip genres. Those new to cozy mystery authors and stories may not know these differ from other tropes in the mystery genre. While there are different variations to it, there are basic ingredients for the recipe of most every cozy mystery series out there.

These stories typically take place in some type of small, socially inclusive town. Sex and violence tend to not have as big of a part as they do in others in the genres, such as the amateur and/or professional sleuths or thrillers. The victim is usually someone who won’t be missed by many.

The detective is usually someone solves mysteries as a type of hobby. They tend to be female characters, usually with a male law enforcement officer of some sort as their ally and love interest. Other hallmarks include a strong family bond who helps to solve the mystery, a feline or canine companion, and titles that are usually punny or an allusion.  More often than not they are some type of business owner as well, which gives them an insight some aspects of the case.

You will see a wide array of these covers whenever perusing digital or physical shelves. Their settings range from outside a building, such as the protagonist’s place of business to a cozy study or library. There is usually some sort of furry companion visible on the cover. If you look carefully you may also notice blood, or part of the body, or a skull somewhere. They’re very east to distinguish.

Below is a list of a few cozy mystery authors who I feel best encapsulate what a cozy mystery is. Hopefully you want to add to your reading list, if they’re not there already!

Agatha Christie

We’re starting with the First Lady of Mystery. She’s also still the best-selling author of all time. She is known best for penning Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and Tommy and Tuppence. She also had a few more modern stories that included Ariadne Oliver, which was a tongue in cheek reference to Christie herself. Oliver is a best-selling author whose most popular character was a well known Finnish detective.

One of the things that makes Christie a pioneer in the cozy field is her distaste of violence. By its nature, a murder mystery has to have a murder, but hers were never outwardly violent. The murders also tended to take place off the pages. The drive of the story was to have the detective involved, and by extension the reader, deduce the who and the why.

Elizabeth Spann Craig

I personally recommend the Myrtle Clover series.  Myrtle is an octogenarian, retired school teacher, and part timer journalist. She passes her time reading, watching soap operas with her platonic sidekick Miles, and solving the mysteries she happens to stumble over. In a change of pace, the police officer in her life is her son Red. He wants his mother to calm down and stop infringing on his career path, since it almost always lands her in danger.

One thing that sets this author apart is the way she writes Myrtle. While Miss Marple is the standard, she did set an archetype of a doddering, almost absentminded old lady  detective. Myrtle does hold her own in solving crimes, but she is more persnickety than Marple. She’s cranky, she knows that people don’t want to be polite to her or help her and takes full advantage of their inability to be rude to the elderly to her gain.

Blanche on the Lam audiobook cover imageBarbara Neely

Neely is known for her Blanche White series. She is also recognized as as being a pioneer for Black women in the mystery genre. While she wasn’t the first Black mystery writer and Blanche wasn’t the first fictional Black sleuth (although she was the first Black female sleuth), she was the first one to be a domestic worker for a white family while solving her mysteries.

Before she was an author, she was an activist, so Neely’s mysteries include great commentary on social issues. Blanche has no problem calling out things that normally get swept under the rug. She proudly called them to the carpet and let everything play out as it would. One of the things that made Blanche a good detective is that people tend to ignore the help, especially if they’re not white. So she was privy to seeing a lot of things that other detectives may not have.

We sadly lost this author in March, but her legacy will live on. The literary world is a bit darker without Neely’s light in it, but we can always visit Blanche’s world to get a taste.

Parnell Hall

I discovered the Puzzle Lady series years ago when I briefly lived in California. Another series where the protagonist is an elderly woman, this one has an interesting spin. In addition to being an amateur sleuth, Cora Sleuth is also a cruciverbalist. Or so she would have you think. In reality it’s her niece Sherry who is the mastermind, but she uses Cora for the face of the Puzzle Lady, since not many people would consider a young woman to be a whiz at whipping up crosswords. Because patriarchy.

Anyways, this series is delightful and its cast of characters is as wacky as you would want the one for a cozy mystery to be. The books also include crossword puzzles.  Just make sure that if you want to solve them you either copy the puzzles from the book or have your own. Since they frown on your writing in library books. Not that I speak from personal experience or anything… (I really don’t. Librarians, please don’t come at me with pitchforks).

While cozies may have started with an elderly woman as a protagonist as the lead, it’s by no means the standard now. So I always think it’s great to see it done and done well. Plus if you’re one who likes crosswords as well  as cozies you get two for the price of one.

cover of secret book and scone society by Ellery AdamsEllery Adams

This author has quite a few series under her belt so she has more than one hand in the cookie jar of the cozy mystery. Adams’s signature is that the women sleuths tend to be middle aged. I have nothing against plucky young twentysomethings or elderly sleuths. But sometimes it’s nice to read about someone who is in my age bracket.

I also personally enjoy sprinkles of faith sprinkled throughout her series. It’s never overwhelming though. Even the one that takes place within a Bible study group isn’t a saturation of Scriptures. Some chapters may start with one, usually paired up with another quote from literature.

I have become enamored with her Secret, Book, and Scone Society lately but currently there are only three books there so it’s not a lot to gorge on. However I’m sure you would be able to find something to your liking in her catalog of options. There’s something for everyone here.

Cleo Coyle

Coyle is better known for her Coffeehouse Mystery series, but my personal favorite is the Haunted Bookshop, originally published under the name Alice Kimberly. It was recently revived (not apologizing for that pun) due to popular demand.  It has everything you could want in a cozy. A bright single mother, a bookstore, and the ghost of a 1940s private detective.

Never mind that the law enforcement/romantic interest isn’t of this mortal realm. Those are just semantics and something that can easily be overcome. Give me a bookstore, my son, and another loving family member plus a smooth talking ghost? Sounds good. I could do without the dead bodies, especially of the author kind since that could end up hurting my bottom line. But it is also part and parcel of the cozy business.

Seriously, though this is a great little series. Penelope and Jack make a great team because above all they respect each other. And they each bring a unique perspective on whichever case falls into their laps. Personally I think this series is superior to Coffeehouse one, although that one isn’t bad. It’s just not my favorite from her repertoire.

The Plot Is Murder coverV.M. Burns

Burns has two series under that fit the bill of a cozy mystery. There is the Mystery Bookshop series which takes place, naturally, in a bookshop. This tends to be a popular setting for cozies. The lead character, Samantha, decides to open up after the tragic passing of her husband. She also is an aspiring writer, so readers will get the added perk of a book within the book as they read Samantha’s work in progress.

The Dog Club Mysteries series is about Lillian. After getting left by her husband, she decides that she wants a clean slate too. She tells her friend Scarlet about her plans, which prompts her to travel from Tennessee to help her move. Scarlet is a dog trainer, a vocation that Lillian also takes up as part of new life.

Both of these series feature middle aged detectives in a new chapter (not going to apologize for that one either) of their lives starting over in a new location. In both debuts, the victim is someone that the would-be detective knew, which led to them being the primary suspect. They also both have a family member or some who has been a friend so long they’re practically family to help clear their name and eventually solve mysteries. While the settings and vocation are different, they are both still fantastic examples of what a cozy entails.

Alexia Gordon

While I haven’t read this author yet, I say without hesitation she is a prime example of what makes up  a cozy. Her series is the Gethsemane Brown one. The titular character is an African American musician who finds herself stranded in Ireland. She’s offered a job turning a group of Irish boys into an orchestra. It’s not such a bad gig since it comes with room and board in a cottage that seemed to come straight out of a gothic horror.

Naturally, it comes with a ghost who was wrongly accused of a murder before dying. He begs Gethsemane to clear his name. As her friendship with the ghost deepens she begins investigation, she draws the attention of the real murderer. Which of course is never a good thing.

The extra something this series brings to the cozy table is the added dash of the detective effectively being a fish out of water. This trope is used to make the protagonist the suspect in the murder. So, their desire to find out who did it is driven by the desire to not end up in jail. Or as the next victim.

Sex, Murder, and a Double LatteKyra Davis

I’ve mentioned before how I will always mention Kyra whenever the subject of mysteries arise.  So this surely isn’t a surprise. These have a bit more violence and sex than most cozies do, as a heads up so brace yourself for that. Heck, the first book in the series even has the word as part of the title, which should let you know that this is not your grandmother’s cozy.

However, it still deserves its place on this list. Sophie is a murder mystery novelist herself, and each chapter starts with a quote from one of her books. Much like Samantha from Burns’s novel, you also get a story within the story which may or may not shed some light on the mystery that Sophie is trying to solve. Add in a cat, a crazy cast of friends, overwhelming family members, including a beyond hyperactive nephew, and you’ve got the perfect combination for a laugh out loud series.

Lorna Barrett

I personally have only read her Booktown mysteries and can only speak on that. However, she has another that would fit the cozy mold. Both have a young, unmarried entrepreneur who is in charge of her own business that tends to draw people who end up getting murdered on the premises. She also has to contend with her sister who followed her to the town and has one different business venture after another.

What made this one stand apart in my head is the familial relationship in it. While this isn’t the first cozy to have a sibling relationship be part of the storytelling process, and it arguably won’t be the last, it is one of the few that has a tumultuous sibling relationship be a major part of the story. That and that both sisters do realize that they have work to do on themselves and with each other to get their relationship to a good place.

G.A. McKevett

Savannah is a plus sized former cop turned PI. So this is an interesting take on cozies. Since she has a background in law enforcement, she’s by no means an amateur. And this experience proves helpful to her when she stumbles over her dead bodies. She also has a crazy cast of friends who have her back and help her to solve those mysteries.

I really appreciated the organic way her friendship turned romance with Dirk develops. They start off as partners on the force, then her consultant when she was starting out her PI business. Eventually it grew to love, but only in the last few books—for the majority of the series, they were just friends. The last few books in the series focus on this change and both of them learning how to adjust to the new roles in each other’s lives.

Gemma Halliday

Halliday’s Maddie Springer series probably the most lighthearted on this list. Maddie is a shoe designer who lives in L.A. who always manages to find herself ankle deep in trouble and dead bodies. She starts the series off with another boyfriend, but eventually ends with an LAPD cop as her beau.

Fair warning: Maddie is also the heroine most likely to make you sigh out loud at the shenanigans she gets into and the decisions she makes. Ultimately she has a heart of gold that is always in the right place and yearns for justice and to right any wrongs. But you’ll still find yourself enamored with her and her world. These are all quick reads that you can dive into and enjoy.