Why Do People Love Light Mysteries?

Why do People Love Light Mysteries?Since my debut mystery, A Killing in Costumes, is set in the world of entertainment memorabilia, I’ll start with a piece of memorabilia—an unusual letter Agatha Christie wrote to a fan in 1969, which was sold by Heritage Auctions for $406. The letter Ms. Christie was responding to is lost to history, but her response makes the context clear:

“I receive a great many fan mails saying nice things about my books. I do not usually pay very much attention to them, I am afraid, but I would like you to know that your letter arrived at a moment when I had been through my own period of painful and prolonged depression over an illness of my own and of my husband’s, and also the loss of an old friend. It cheered me very greatly to get your letter of gratitude and to know that I had been a help to you in a sad period of your own life. Yours sincerely, Agatha Christie”

I love this letter so much because it’s both revealing of Christie, the richest and most celebrated woman in England at the time and yet still dealing with the melancholy she’d battled her whole life—and also of the special relationship that persists between mystery writers and their readers. I sent emails not unlike this one to a few cozy writers I loved back in March 2020, when I was holed up in a one bedroom apartment in NYC. Books by writers like Jenn McKinlay and Miranda James were among the few bright spots of that miserable period. I think every longtime mystery writer and every reader has experiences like this. And I think that exchange of joy and comfort in the face of adversity is the magic of the genre.

A few months ago, a journalist friend who read my new book, A Killing in Costumes, told me she liked it—but asked whether I’d ever do another “real book” again, meaning the kind of reported nonfiction that my last book was. 

I wasn’t offended by the question, and I knew what she meant. But the world needs both—books that illuminate the confusing and often sad world we live in, and books that illuminate nothing but make the world a little easier to live in. I don’t think anyone in the world does the latter as well as the best cozy mystery writers.

As for why traditional mysteries seem to elicit this kind connection between writer and reader? I’m not sure I have anything smart or fresh to say—but I think it’s something about seeing ordinary people remain calm and methodical in the face of enormous stress, using their wits and, especially in the case of cozies, network of friends to fix things and right wrongs. If Lila Macapagal can keep calm and run her family restaurant while solving a food critic’s murder in Arsenic and Adobo, we can too.

I know traditional mysteries have helped me get through periods of stress and sorrow in my own life, and nothing would make me happier than to be able to do that for someone with my debut mystery. I hope you’ll read it and, if you do it and brightens your day a little, please tell me. Maybe I’ll get your note on a day when I need it.

About the Author

Zac Bissonnette is the New York Times bestselling author of The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute. His debut cozy mystery, A Killing in Costumes releases August 9 from Crooked Lane Books. He is an equity analyst at a hedge fund, and lives in New York City with his partner and a tuxedo cat named Perry Como.