The Sometimes Misunderstood Cozy Mystery
by Michele Lynn Seigfried
Cozy mysteries are my favorite type of book to read. Lately, I’ve been reading and reviewing a number of cozies for Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours. In doing so, I’ve come to the realization that many folks out there don’t understand the genre.
I’ve looked at the negative reviews for many cozies and the comments are similar. I feel that if all readers understood the genre, the most common of the complaints would be non-existent. So, what are these reviewers saying? And what is it these reviewers don’t understand?
“The author is trying to be like Janet Evanovich,” This is the number one comment that I see in negative reviews for cozy mysteries. Yes, Janet Evanovich writes books that are cozy mysteries. No, cozy mystery authors aren’t trying to be her. Would they like to be as successful as her? Of course. But, authors mainly want their work to stand out, to be unique, and not be a copy of another’s work. However, when authors write cozy mysteries that are true to the genre, there are going to be similarities to other authors in that genre. Agatha Christie is probably the best known author for this genre.
“The main character is trying to be Stephanie Plum.” This is another Evanovich-type comment that appears in negative reviews. Once again, I don’t think authors are trying to imitate Stephanie Plum. Is it because Stephanie is a female? I would say an author, any author—not just a cozy author, has a 50% chance their sleuth will be female.
Is it because she has two parents? Most people do.
An amateur sleuth? An amateur is a trait of a cozy mystery, which, is not to be confused with hard-boiled, police procedural, or crime mystery genres.
Is it because the sleuth has a complicated or conflicted love life? Single people abound in cozy mysteries. How many single people do you know with a simple, drama-free love life? Not many, I suppose.
Or, is it because humor surrounds the main character? Humor is another trait of a cozy mystery.
“The sleuth is a woman.” While not necessarily combined with a Stephanie Plum reference, this is another comment I’ve seen used negatively. While a sleuth is either going to be male or female, cozy authors mainly choose female sleuths, because that is what the cozy genre calls for!
“The sidekick is too eccentric to be believable.” Cozy mysteries are known to be written in series, which means there is a need for likeable, unique, and eccentric characters in order for readers to want to continue reading other books in the series. The crazy, loud, inappropriately dressed, or other unusual sidekick is a norm in cozies.
“There is no foul language.” This one isn’t really a complaint, but a lot of reviewers sound shocked by this. While I noticed that cozies authors are including more foul language in their works, the genre is known for having few, if any, curse words.
“It’s unrealistic; x, y, and z wouldn’t happen in real life.” In my opinion, cozy mysteries are written to be enjoyable reads. Suspending reality for a little while with absurdities is fun. Think of Carl the monkey in the Stephanie Plum series. And a car that blows up in every single novel. Not so realistic (but oh so fun!) Ghosts and supernatural events appear in numerous series. Car chases and gun shots with no cops around. The books are meant to entertain, and not meant to be true stories.
To summarize and add a few more facts, cozies typically have a female amateur sleuth. They lack
the blood and gore contained in regular mysteries. They are often humorous. There is usually a little romance, but not graphic sexual content, and drama surrounding the romance. Most of the time, the sleuth has a connection to law enforcement—a boyfriend, or a relative. Amateur sleuths typically need a way to find information that only those in law enforcement would have access to. The police don’t usually take the sleuth seriously. Cozies are most often written in series and include entertaining characters. Sound a lot like Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series? Of course! Evanovich writes cozy mysteries! And cozy fans would expect nothing less.