Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why I Like Cozies

by Nancy J. Cohen

Malice Domestic, a conference for cozy mystery fans, defines cozies as “mysteries which contain no explicit sex or excessive gore or violence.”

If you’re a mystery fan and you want to hear about murders, turn on the evening news. Here you’ll learn about the despicable things people do to other people. As you may already know, we are our own worst enemies. Why, then, would we want to read about these horrible acts as a form of entertainment?

Cozy mysteries, unlike other crime novels, leave the gory details offstage. The focus of these stories is on the relationships among the characters. The heroes are real people, ordinary citizens like you or I, not a superhero singlehandedly aiming to take down a global terrorist ring or a villain bent on world domination.

The sleuth is your friendly librarian or hairdresser or knitting circle partner caught up in events beyond her control. Yet she has the courage, resourcefulness, and guts that many of us lack, and she is driven to learn the truth. We admire those qualities within her that we wish we possessed, and we live vicariously through her attempts to unravel the mystery.

The crimes in cozies are motivated by emotions we all share: jealousy, greed, envy, revenge. They’re what I call the negative motivators. Usually the victim is someone who’s offended the bad guy, or someone who usurped what he believes to be rightfully is, or just someone who got in the way of his distorted ambitions. These are people we can understand, because we all harbor those feelings inside. We can suppress them, however, and let the good within us predominate.

Meanwhile, the victim may be someone we love to hate. Lots of people have reason to want this fictional person dead. Who has the strongest motive, the means, and the opportunity? Therein lies the puzzle at the heart of a cozy. We are armchair detectives as we uncover clues along with the amateur sleuth.

As mentioned above, relationships are the focus of these stories instead of forensics details. In a recent Entertainment Weekly interview, Patricia Cornwall said “I think we’re at a real shift in what we want from crime fiction. I have seen in my own work that I have had to focus more on characters and their relationships as opposed to writing a procedural.” Well, duh. This is what we cozy writers do all the time. We write about amateur sleuths who use their people skills to interview subjects, track down clues, and unmask the killer. Figuring out the interrelationships among the characters is what makes these stories so enjoyable to plot. We can create juicy personal secrets and relate them to the murder in some way.

Cozy mysteries also feature distinctive settings. My Bad Hair Day series stars hairstylist Marla Shore, who owns the Cut ‘N Dye salon in sunny Palm Haven, Florida. Many of my humorous stories include issues important to Floridians along with the goings-on in a busy salon. Other authors focus on crafts or cooking or shopkeeping. Stories are set in small towns with a unique ambience. It’s fun to read about these places and the folks who inhabit them. They serve as a microcosm of the bigger world. Through sensory details imparted by the author, we feel as though we’re there in this charming location.

Aside from setting and characters, the tone of a cozy sets these stories apart from other crime fiction. Often humorous and light, they offer an escape from reality. We can chuckle in the face of death and destruction because we know at the finish is a HEA (Happy Ever After) ending. Justice will be served. The villain will be caught. All is well with the world, unlike in real life. This sense of unreality, of fantasy, is another reason why I like to read cozies. I don’t want to read about the horrors in the daily news. In a cozy, people around the sleuth drop dead with regularity, but they’re often someone you dislike. The sleuth always unmasks the killer. Readers of this genre accept the conventions and cherish them.

Thus the reasons why I like cozies are multiple: the tone, the setting, and the characters blend into a story that keeps you guessing until you close the last page with a smile on your face.

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Shear Murder

Who knew weddings could be murder? Hairstylist Marla Shore is weeks away from becoming a bride herself when she walks down the aisle as a bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s ceremony. Things take a turn for the worse when the matron of honor ends up dead, the cake knife in her chest. Now what will they use to cut the cake?


Nancy J. Cohen is an award-winning author who writes romance and mysteries. Her popular Bad Hair Day series features hairdresser Marla Shore, who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun. Several titles in this series have made the IMBA bestseller list, while Nancy’s imaginative sci-fi romances have garnered rave reviews. Her latest book, and tenth in her mystery series, is Shear Murder from Five Star. Coming next is Warrior Prince, book one in The Drift Lords series, from The Wild Rose Press. Active in the writing community and a featured speaker at libraries and conferences, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who’s Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets.

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30 comments:

  1. Well put! I used to read police procedurals and gritty mysteries, but gradually lost my tolerance for gory details and violence. I went back to my reading roots and started reading cozies again. I don't think Agatha Christie books and the like were called cozies originally, but they fit the bill, I think. For me they are entertainment, but also a great escape.

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  2. I read cozies because I'm not interested in reading aboutsex or violence (I consider these the same thing and not welcome in my brain). And, of course, I grew up on the Stratemeyer syndicat mysteries. I do wish the current cozies were more cerebral, and that they would eliminate the 'cute pets.' To some of us those two words are counter-indicative.

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  3. Agatha Christie started the genre in my view. Her stories focus on a limited number of suspects, most of whom know each other and who have a motive for murder. These books did offer the "cerebral" type of mystery, but today's readers like the crafts and cooking and such. If you're not a pet person, look for series that don't include them. I don't mind a cat or dog but things can get silly when it's another creature.

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  4. Yes, cozies are a fun change of pace to get us away from the real world.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

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  5. I like cozy's because they're not as graphic.
    Theresa N
    weceno(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  6. I have always read Mysteries but found myself not enjoying them much anymore with the distraction of excess violence and sex, Then I found COZIES and have been a very happy reader since. I have read all the books in your Marla series and would love to win the newest!

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    1. forgot my email: nlb1050(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  7. Thanks, Morgan, Theresa, and Nancy. Yes, I agree that cozies are a fun read that take us away from reality. We enter the sleuth's world for a short time and it's a pleasant place with a puzzle to solve that keeps us turning pages.

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  8. I read cozies because they are so contextual...full of observations about places, people, relationships....I can get lost in them. And that's the point. I read to escape into another place.

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  9. Forgot to say..no sex, gore, or bad words does not matter to me. I read John D. MacDonald over and over for the same reasons...the keen observations, the drawing me in to the context and locale...

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  10. As good a description of what makes a cozy a cozy as I've ever read. Thank you, Nancy!

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  11. Nancy, thanks for being our guest today! You always have something interesting to say. Coming from cozies, I have to say I like them, too. They're kind of akin to comfort food for the mystery reader, I think (well, at least this reader!). And I can always turn my light off at night after reading a cozy, and I don't have to worry about scary dreams!

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  12. Well put, ladies! There is no "erase" button in the brain, so I have trusted friends who warn me if something (Silence of the Lambs for example) will be too much for me.

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  13. J.D., I also prefer books without foul language. I see no need for it, even with tough-edged characters. That's another reason why I like this genre. Susan, I like your analogy of cozies as comfort food for the mystery reader.

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  14. Very well said! I agree with all the other comments, I don't need to read about explicit sex or violence, I want to know that ordinary people can find the courage to do the right thing, even when they are scared, inept or out of their depth! I want to like the main character and their family and friends, and find out more about them as the series develops. Cozy mysteries provide all of this. I have lived through enough in my own life to not want or need the gore of thrillers or procedural mysteries -give me a nice Cozy mystery anyday!

    BTW, I worked for most of my 20's as a PI in real life, and most things get solved not by science, but by people using their brains and talking to other people, just like in your books!

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  15. Maureen, your last statement makes me feel good! It helps to have a sleuth who's a good listener and who comes into contact with many different people.

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  16. I so agree. Even on television the networks have been giving us viewers a plethora of blood and gore, rape and murder, pedophilia and necromancy. Every show is more shocking than the last, which is why one of my (Not yet published) cozy murder mysteries is set to become a series. The novel is called Getting Skinny--all about a chubby chef with a food addiction, who solves murders on the side--but I doubt they will keep the name for the series.
    I started reading cozy mysteries a few years ago when I discovered Diana Mott Davidson and haven't stopped since.

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  17. Nancy, very well said. Thank you for your thoughts.
    Una Tiers

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  18. I enjoyed reading my own thoughts about reading cozies--a very good piece that I hope a lot of people will read and think about. When someone tells me my books remind them of Agatha Christie, i am so pleased.

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  19. Getting Skinny--what a cute idea! Diane Mott Davidson was one of the first cozy authors I'd read, too. And Jill Churchill.

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  20. Susan, being compared to Agatha Christie is indeed a compliment.

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  21. What a fabulous post. I have to have a vested interest in the characters to read a book.

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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  22. Looking forward to reading Nancy J. Cohen's new mystery book...'Shear Murder'.......babyruthmac16@yahoo.com

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  23. Thanks to everyone for visiting and to the Stiletto Gang for having me!

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  24. Thank YOU, Nancy! We always love having you here!

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  25. Plus cozies are perfect bathtub reading!

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  26. This is a great explanation of why I love cozies. I want to have fun with characters I love, enjoy the puzzle, and close the book with a smile on my face. I'm looking forward to attending this year's Malice Domestic!

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  27. "Relationships, not forensics, are the focus of these stories." Well said! In a mystery novel (cozy or not-so) I want to know and understand the characters first. Then give me the story and the crime.

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