Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Traditional and Cozy Mysteries

The pies are in the oven. Plans are set for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving celebration. Time to talk mysteries, cozy and traditional.

I’ve always considered my own books to be solidly in the cozy camp. Then someone commented to me that they thought they tended more toward the traditional. That got me thinking. What makes a book a cozy?

I’ve been mulling over this for a while now. Aline’s recent post on cozies brought it to the forefront once again.

For the last few years, I’ve attended the Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda, MD, a celebration of traditional mysteries. The Malice website loosely defines this genre as books having no explicit sex, excessive gore or gratuitous violence. Think Agatha Christie.

I think everyone pretty much agrees that cozies are a subset of traditional mysteries. So the above definition applies to cozies as well. Beyond that, though, what pushes the book over the edge into the cozy camp? I have my own thoughts, but I decided to query a group of people who read a lot of them to see what their take was.

The following came up in the discussion:

- Traditional mysteries are grittier and have more of a police presence.
- Cozies tend to be more humorous.
- In cozies, the main character is usually an amateur sleuth. And that sleuth is often involved in a hobby/craft and/or runs a business centered around a hobby/craft. Cooking mysteries are extremely common in the cozy world, so I’d add that the sleuth might have a business involving food, like a bakery. I don’t think either is a requirement for a cozy, though. I can think of series that feature college professors or columnists for newspapers.
- Historical mysteries fall in the traditional camp and aren’t cozies.
- Having a romantic interest in the story also came up. Pretty common in cozies, but not required, I think.
- And there are often pets in the stories. Cats, dogs... I wrote a post about that once on National Cat Day on my take of why that’s so common. Here it is, if you want to read it.
- Cozies often have “cute” titles in which puns are pretty common.

In addition to all of that, the crime often takes place in a small community of some kind. That might mean a small town, but it also might mean a community of people interested in the same thing like knitters, tole painters, etc. And what I think is most important, the bad guy is always revealed at the end and they get their comeuppance. I think that’s probably true of traditional mysteries as well, though I’m not sure it’s really a requirement.

So where does that leave my books? First, look at those covers. They look pretty cozy with their bright colors. And the titles are pretty cozy-like in my opinion. My protagonist is a freelance computer programmer (amateur sleuth, check) whose hobby is tole/decorative painting (craft, check). She lives in a Los Angeles county beach city, which has a small town feel. The books do involve the tole painting community so I’d say check on the small community. The bad guys are always revealed in the end and they get their comeuppance, so there’s a check on that as well. No sex, but there’s a bit of romance (check). There’s a bit of humor (check). And neighborhood cats and dogs play a role in my stories (pets, check).

So what might take me out of the cozy camp? While I don’t have gory scenes or gratuitous violence, I do occasionally have a scene where my main character, Aurora (Rory), is hit on the head or finds herself shoved into traffic. (Poor thing has been hit on the head too many times. I’m beginning to worry about her.) That may be where the idea that my books tend toward the traditional comes from. I can see that.

This has been a fun exercise, but it doesn’t really matter to me how my books are categorized as long as people read and enjoy them.

Cozies transport you into another world where you can forget about your own problems for a while. And, in the end, the case is solved, the bad guy is punished in some way, and order is restored. Rick wondered in a recent post if, with the discord in the world today, if more people would start reading more cozies. I wouldn’t be surprised.

That’s my two cents for today. I think I’ll go read a cozy right now. Those pies aren’t ready to come out of the oven yet.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

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