So you love a good mystery, but you can’t stand reading about gruesome death, murder, or abuse, and you don’t like sex and profanity. Cozy mystery novels are for you. The cozy mystery genre has its roots in early 20th century British mysteries (think Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers), but really took off in the late 20th century in an attempt to recreate that Golden Age of detective fiction, and as a response to the hardboiled crime fiction that became popular in the U.S. in the mid-20th century.
So what makes a cozy mystery just that? There is a lot of creativity in the genre, but there are some genre standards that all cozy mysteries must adhere to if they want to earn that title. We’ll break down the conventions, and then recommend five cozy mysteries that we think you ought to pick up.
In cozy mysteries, the protagonist is an amateur sleuth who is quite often a woman. The sleuth is not trained in crime-solving or detection, but she usually has some kind of career that allows her to be privy to gossip or information that others might not have—a postmistress, running an inn, or a librarian. The protagonist might be on good terms with the police or investigating detective (she might even have a flirtation with them), but she usually solves the crime without too much of their help—or for whatever reason, the police might not be able to properly investigate the crime, leaving it entirely up to the protagonist.
In general, the characters of cozy mysteries are likable and despicable characters or antagonists are not too darkly evil or awful—in fact, the villain is oftentimes someone that the protagonist knows!
Authors really let their creativity shine through with the settings of cozy mysteries! While Christie and Sayers made the secluded British manor or the charming village fan favorites for cozy settings, a cozy mystery can be set anywhere. From a small town in Alaska to an Asian market in Ohio, there’s so much room to explore. However, one thing that cozy mysteries generally have in common is a sense of community. The protagonist knows her community, takes an active role, and knows a lot of the characters who live there. The rich settings are also important as cozy mysteries tend to come in series, so writers want to give their characters plenty of space to investigate and solve multiple mysteries over many books!
No on-the-page violence, murder, sex, or swearing are the tenets of the cozy mystery genre. While protagonists can and often do encounter some kind of peril in the course of their sleuthing, that peril is never exceptionally violent or dark. Many of the works that inspired the genre are whodunits, but think about Agatha Christie’s works—she often featured characters discovering a body, or learning of a death and finding mysterious clues at a crime scene. In this way, cozy mysteries capitalize on the mystery aspect of murder, not the violence of it. But cozy mysteries don’t just have to be about murder! They can include sabotage, arson, extortion and blackmail, even kidnapping. The important thing is that the protagonist learns of a mystery, there are stakes, and plenty of twists!
There are so many options and subgenres of cozy mystery—animal cozies, historical cozies, contemporary cozies, food cozies…it can be hard to narrow down exactly what you might love. We recommend checking out any of these five cozy mysteries to see if they’re the right fit for you.
Jacqueline Kirby is a former librarian and current bestselling author who dreams of taking a break and retiring far away from the publishing business when her agent presents her with an offer she's can't turn down: pen the sequel to a legendary bestselling mystery novel written by the late Kathleen Darcy. But as Jacqueline begins looking through Kathleen's papers and notes, she uncovers disturbing secrets that could put her in danger.
Bailey Weggins is a true crime reporter in NYC who loves her job and always has a good sense for when there's more to the story—but she doesn't expect to end up being directly involved in a crime herself. That's exactly what happens when her editor calls her to her house one night, and Bailey discovers the live-in nanny is dead! Was she the real target, or was Bailey's editor meant to die instead? She's on the case.
If you're going to read a cozy, might as well start with the Queen of Mystery! In this Miss Marple mystery, set in the village of Chipping Cleghorn, a murder is announced in the local paper. The locals are flummoxed and intrigued, certain it's a prank, but when they gather at the appointed time and place, the lights go out and a shot is heard, and someone winds up dead. Only Miss Marple can unwind this mystery!
Theodosia is the owner and proprietor of the Indigo Tea Shop in Charleston, SC and she happily makes her living peddling teas out of her shop and catering tea parties and events. But when a guest at a tea party is found dead, clutching his tea cup full of Theo's dajeerling, suspicion falls upon her and it's up to her to clear her name and salvage her business!
Hannah Swenson runs The Cookie Jar, the best bakery in her small Minnesota town. When the delivery driver for the local dairy farm is found dead behind her shop and crumbles of her famous cookies sprinkled around his body. Hannah needs to clear her name and prove that her business is above reproach, and fast.
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