Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Revealing Too Much

Cozies are my comfort food and my favorite kind of mystery. As you might guess, I’ve been reading a lot of them lately.

Most, if not all, cozies are series. I can’t think of a single cozy that was written as a standalone. Some series might be only two or three books long, while others can run to well over twenty. However long the series, there’s an unspoken contract to the reader about its content: no extreme violence, no sex scenes, the emphasis is on the investigation and, at the end, the killer is identified and brought to justice.

I’d like to add another one to this list: While a crime from a previous book in the series might be mentioned in a later book, the perpetrator and solution to that previous crime should not be revealed or even hinted at.

At least, that’s what I expect when I read a series. I think most cozy authors think the same way I do. Of course, this doesn’t matter as much if you read a series starting with the first book, but not everyone does that.

I admit to being one of those people who, for various reasons, reads a series out of order. Generally, I prefer to read from the beginning, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. I might get a free book at a conference or receive a book as a gift or buy a book because I like the title/story line/cover.

In my own Aurora Anderson series, I’ve tried to keep this in mind. I spend a fair amount of time thinking about what needs to be said to keep the reader oriented but, at the same time, not reveal too much, ruining the previous books for them. I want a reader to be able to pick up any of my books and enjoy the story even if they’ve never read the ones before it. There’s often a fine line between saying too little and revealing too much. I think I’ve largely been successful. At least reviews of my later books from readers who are new to the series tell me that.

But I’ve noticed in my recent reading that not all cozy writers seem to think the same way I do. I read one book that I think didn’t explain enough. A single line of explanation would have gotten rid of my confusion without giving anything away. I didn’t worry about it too much and kept on reading, ending up generally understanding the story. Still, I would have liked that sentence.

I read another series recently that had the opposite problem—revealing way too much. I don’t understand why the writer chose to reveal pretty much the entire plot of the previous books in the series including the killers. It wasn’t necessary to understand the characters or plot line of the book I was reading. Luckily, I actually had read the series from the beginning so it didn’t spoil anything for me. I still found it concerning and annoying that so much was revealed.

My appeal to cozy writers out there – please, please, please realize that not all readers read your series form the beginning and plan accordingly.

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