Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cozies versus Suspense/Mysteries

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the difference between a traditional mystery verses a suspense (or hybrid suspense/mystery) and a cozy mystery.

For me, understanding the differences has been key as I craft a proposal for a new cozy series. I’m the type of person who needs to really process through things and understand the foundation, and once I have that firm foundation, I can build the house, making changes as I go. If the foundation is strong, then changes as I go won’t make the house collapse.

Here are the key differences as I see them:

Mystery (cozy) verses suspense (or hybrid suspense/mystery)

  • Narrow World View
  • Larger World View

By this I mean that the detective in a mystery focuses on a smaller community, a collection of suspects, unraveling the secrets and lies within that community, in order to get to the truth.

In a suspense the action leads the hero to a larger, sometimes international, world which is where the clues lead.

  • Traditionally, the detective is not the center of the drama or action
  • The hero/heroine is the at risk him/herself and that is at the center of the drama

Especially in the mysteries of old, the detective doesn’t have personal growth or, put another way, he/she doesn’t go through a hero’s journey. More contemporary mysteries, particularly cozies, do have sleuths who undergo change or growth.

In a suspense, the center of the story is the hero/heroine. He/she is the one in danger and that is what drives the pursuit of justice (or the defeat of the villain). The hero/heroine is not on the periphery as the sleuth often is throughout a big portion of the cozy.

  • Who committed the crime? Will the puzzle be put together
  • Will the hero/heroine survive against a smart villain?

This is fundamental. In a mystery, will the detective put the pieces of the puzzle together in time before another death (sometimes the sleuth by this time) occurs? In a suspense, the question is really based on tension that is built from the danger the hero/heroine is in. Whether or not the villain will win is the driving force of the story.

  • Keeping the detective ahead of the reader.
  • Keeping the reader ahead of the hero/heroine.

In a mystery, the detective must be smarter than the reader! The puzzle has to be complicated or crafted well enough to fool the reader and keep him/her guessing, yet not too complicated or convoluted. In a suspense, or hybrid, the reader is really ahead of the hero/heroine because we know the danger that’s coming and we’re on the edge of our seats hoping that the hero/heroine is as smart as we are.

I’ve realized that I prefer the cozy model better. For starters, I don’t like to be on the edge of my seat in a heart-pounding scary way.

Blair Witch Trial?


Hercule Poirot?


So I’m curious, which type of mystery speaks to you? Do you like being ahead of the game as in a suspense, or a few steps behind the sleuth, hoping to put together the puzzle by the end?



  1. I like them both, but seeing as I'm reading more cozies lately, I like the idea that the detective is a little ahead of me and feel good when my guess is correct.

  2. Caolyn Wheat has a good book out that explores the differences in greater detail: HOW TO WRITE KILLER FICTION. Most useful.

  3. I'm a cozy girl, to be sure!

    Thanks for stopping by, Dru and Laura!

  4. I used to read Hercule Poirot when I was in junior high and high school but I loved the TV cops shows and gravitated in grown up days to the romantic suspense. I tend to write those too.

  5. I like them both--my books are more on the cozy side than the thriller side--but probably a bit more edgy than most.

  6. Me too, both. I love a good police-procedural and a Miss Marple and a detective-noir, well, heck. I just like 'em all =)

    My word verification is thstst. I don't know this word. Anyone?

  7. Nothing wrong with loving them all!

    Don't know that word, zita!