A Brief History of Cozy Mysteries
Cozy mysteries are the perfect sub-genre for mystery lovers who want their murder mysteries with a large helping of escapism, minus the darkness, violence, and profanity. Cozy mysteries are labeled “cozy” for a reason. The stories in these books provide just the right amount of danger and intrigue, but in the end, the reader can rest assured that the case will be solved and everything will be alright again. At least until the next book in the series.
But what does the term “cozy mystery” really mean? And where did the genre come from? Cozy mysteries are still a fairly recent development in the mystery genre. The term “cozy mystery” was coined in the late 20th century at a time when contemporary writers were trying to recreate the feel of the mystery novels from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.
Not sure what the Golden Age is? Think Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and other mystery authors who were writing in the 1920s and 30s. The mysteries from this time period were based on the idea that mystery stories were puzzles that the reader could solve along with the protagonist as the story unfolded.
Following the popularity of the Golden Age of mysteries in the early part of the 20th century, grittier, darker mysteries were the next major trend in detective fiction towards the middle of the 20th century. In contrast to the Golden Age detective novels that came before them, these hardboiled mysteries were less about the puzzle and more about revealing the dark side of crime and detective work. The development of cozy mysteries was in part a response to the dark, hardboiled mysteries of the 1930s-50s. Cozy mysteries were a way of going back to the Golden Age times when mysteries would be solved, and that solution would lead to a satisfactory closing of the case, much to the comfort of the reader.
While many cozy mysteries deviate from the norms of a genre, there is a formula that most of these stories follow, generally speaking. And that’s okay because the formula is part of what makes this genre so comforting. The protagonist in a cozy mystery is almost always an amateur sleuth of some kind, meaning he or she is not an official detective or connected to law enforcement in any way. Usually, this amateur detective is an intelligent, intuitive woman. This makes sense because the majority of cozy mystery readers are also intelligent, intuitive women looking for a bit of escapism and a crime to help solve.
If law enforcement is a part of the cozy mystery story, the police or other officials don’t trust the protagonist. After all, she’s meddling where she doesn’t belong. Or the authorities believe the amateur sleuth is incapable of actually solving the case, so they don’t think of her or take her seriously at all.
The cozy mystery usually takes place in a town or a small village or somewhere secluded. In settings like this, the mystery can be contained and all clues and suspects are easily located. Often these settings pull in a small business or specific hobbies/interests. For instance, Iced in Paradise by Naomi Hirahara centers around a family-owned shaved ice shack in Kaua’i. Cookies and Clairvoyance by Bailey Cates pull wedding planning and magical baking into the story. Some stories prominently feature the amateur detective’s pet, such as The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun.
Cozy mysteries emphasize solving the puzzle of the mystery over the horrors of the crime. The violence of the murder happens off the page. There is usually no sex included in the story and very little cursing. The deemphasis on violence, profanity, and sex is part of the reason these stories are so appealing to such a wide range of readers.
Another thing that makes cozy mysteries appealing to so many readers? The characters. Cozy mysteries are usually full of characters readers enjoy reading about and become invested in. In fact, readers become so invested in these characters that they’re willing to follow them through several novels. Many cozy mysteries are series. Overall, cozy mysteries are the perfect mix of smart, thoughtful stories that challenge you to think as you read while also being a relaxing escape from everyday life. Although the cozy mystery as a genre is only a few decades old, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon.
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