Guest blog by Bonnie Monte
What is it about cozy murder mysteries that devotees of the genre love? Surely it’s not the murder itself. In my experience, cozy lovers are some of the least violent (and brainiest) people I know. What engages their sharp little minds is the puzzle, the dance with the writer of deciphering the clues, discerning which are red herrings, and keeping up with the sleuth as she puts it all together. Ideally, the reader shouldn’t guess the truth before the sleuth does. After all, figuring out the answer too soon spoils the fun and makes finishing the book pointless.
In my mystery, The Sleeping Lady, I endeavored to provide enough clues to make the ending believable. But I also tried to misdirect the reader, casting suspicion on several other characters before the true villain was revealed. I had a good time setting the action in the northern California town of San Anselmo, where I used to live. As part of the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s certainly sophisticated, but its bucolic environs and intimate size make it perfect for a cozy. Besides a small-town setting, another hallmark of a cozy is an amateur sleuth who feels compelled to unmask the murderer even though it’s not his or her job to do so. And perhaps most important, no gore. Yes, someone is dead, but that mayhem happens off the page..
Perhaps the most classic of cozies are Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series. The dear elderly lady is certainly an amateur, but her remarkable insights into human nature makes her a sleuth to be reckoned with. A Murder Is Announced is one of my favorites. First published in 1950, it hasn’t lost its luster, still offering a delightful glimpse into English village life and the foibles of the monied class. As the title suggests, an odd invitation summons guests to attend a murder at a country home. But the event turns out to be not a festive murder mystery dinner when an actual death takes place, befuddling the hostess and the guests. Accident? Of course not, as Miss Marple deftly proves.
For a more modern-day take on the cozy formula, I like Sandra Balzo’s Maggy Thorsen series. Maggy, recently divorced, runs a coffeehouse in a fictional Wisconsin town. Uncommon Grounds is the first in the series and has Maggy just launching her new business. When one of the partners turns up dead in the shop, our heroine begins investigating, sometimes clashing with the local sheriff. Despite them butting heads, there’s the hint of a romance in their future. What I like about Maggy is that she’s a thoroughly 21st-century woman—entrepreneurial, independent, and funny. Recurring characters feel like old friends as the series progresses.
A cozy that had me laughing out loud is The Crepes of Wrath by Tamara Myers. With similarly punny titles, all the books in this series feature Magdalena Yoder, a Mennonite who runs a bed and breakfast in Pennsylvania Dutch country. How’s that for a new take on crime-solving? A local cook whose food is, shall we say, not the best, is poisoned by a batch of crepes, and Magdalena investigates. Good thing, too, since the local police chief isn’t the sharpest guy around. Magdalena may be religious, but that doesn’t stop her from cavorting with assorted men and generally getting into hilarious predicaments as she noses her way to unraveling the clues. Quirky characters and an impossibly offbeat sleuth make this series tremendous fun. And since Magdalena runs a B&B, recipes are included in every book.
In real life of course, murder is tragic and horrific. But cozy mysteries bypass all that, providing an entertaining read that gives our brains a workout.
Bonnie Monte is the author of the cozy mystery, The Sleeping Lady. Learn more at her website https://bonniemonte.com/