What Makes a Cozy Mystery?

whatmakesacozymystery_novelsuspectsSo 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!

The Crimes

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!

Recommended Reading

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.