Cozy Murder Mysteries: A Contradiction in Terms?

When I  first encountered the term “cozy mystery,”  I had already written one murder mystery.  Someone asked me, was mine a cozy.  I really didn’t know.

 I have read murder mysteries from time to time throughout my life—all of Dorothy L. Sayers when I was young, the novels of P.D. James as they came out. Mysteries were on the whole peripheral to my reading habits, but when I happened upon mystery writers whom I liked, I read all their books, just as I would have read all the books of any other author who appealed to me. In later years, for example, I came upon the Venetian mysteries of Donna Leon, and have read most of them, and later still the Viennese mysteries of Frank Tallis—I am at present reading his most recent, Vienna Twilight.  Running these authors through my mind when I came across the term “cozy mysteries,” I thought, well none of them are cozy, surely.

Maybe Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, however, she might fall into the cozy category. But why? What was the difference? There are those who will tell you that cozy mysteries usually take place in picturesque towns or villages. That fits Miss Marple, or, to take an American example, Jessica Fletcher of TV fame in the distinctly cozy Cabot Cove settings of “Murder She Wrote.”

Wikipedia tells us that “cozy mysteries are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously.” Violence is certainly downplayed in the appellation itself, “cozy mysteries.” You do not encounter the term  “cozy murder mysteries” as often, probably because, when you get down to it, murder itself cannot actually be cozy, and yet, in all honesty, “mysteries” do usually hinge on murder. Calling them “cozy mysteries” does not alter that fact.

The last novel discussed in this blog, William Ryan’s “The Holy Thief” was anything but cozy, and I had problems, as I said in my review, with the degree of violence described in the text.  But perhaps any shock at this is nothing compared with what you might feel if you allowed yourself really to contemplate the enormity of thousands of people, and a great many of them women, curling up of an evening with a cup of hot chocolate to chortle over the ins and outs of a cozy murder.

Next week I am going to write about the novels of Patricia Rockwell, a self-declared cozy-mystery writer, and she has agreed to be interviewed for the blog. I am looking forward to this and hope you will drop by to see what she says.  Thank you, Patricia!

About dorothyjames

Welsh-American writer, German scholar, translator, traveller.
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One Response to Cozy Murder Mysteries: A Contradiction in Terms?

  1. I find the term “cozy mystery” puzzling in an intriguing kind of way, almost oxymoronic but perhaps not quite. I’m looking forward to learning more about this genre and to reading your interview with Ms. Rockwell.

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