May 1, 2015 Booklist 19 www.booklistonline.com May 1, 2015 Booklist 19 #mysterymonth
If anyone ever had doubts about how Booklist feels about crime novels, this issue and all previous crime spotlights provide convincing evidence that we love crime—well, the
fictional kind at least. Readers’ advisors surely aren’t surprised, as
crime fiction—mysteries, thrillers, suspense novels—are always
popular. We find these books on the best-seller lists and buy
multiple copies of titles in the ever-increasing number of series.
Crime fiction is big business. While the genre is popular across
the board, there’s one segment that endures as a mainstay of
library collections: cozy mysteries. They aren’t necessarily best-sellers, but their popularity among readers in libraries remains
steady. What’s the secret of their enormous and lasting appeal?
To unravel this puzzle, let’s start with a little background. Cozy
mysteries aren’t a new phenomenon. The subgenre’s roots go
back to mystery’s Golden Age in the 1920s and ’30s and Agatha
Christie’s Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Christie, in fact,
set some of the familiar parameters of the cozy: village locales,
murders offstage, genteel language and mores, and puzzles often
solved as much through snooping as sleuthing. Other popular
Golden Agers such as Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and
G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown have long filled library shelves
and have been immortalized in BBC dramas on DVD.
Every fan has a definition of cozies, but generally the body is
offstage, and neither death nor any violent act is explicitly described. While the books are investigative, the mystery is often
solved through the detective’s intuition, with more reliance on
gossip than DNA. Traditional cozies are set in small towns filled
with quirky characters, and they feature richly detailed settings
with descriptive locales and time periods. Investigators are usually amateur detectives, unlicensed and unpaid for their work
and frequently female; less frequently, they may be private investigators or police officers.
Fans appreciate the gentle tone and the pleasures of old-fashioned storytelling. Cozy mysteries center on well-constructed
puzzles presented without grit or edginess. Humor fills these
mysteries, and even those that aren’t laugh-out-loud funny offer an
upbeat tone. Cozy mysteries come in series, and readers develop
affectionate relationships with the likable, sometimes eccentric,
series leads and their sidekicks and neighbors. Many detectives
have intriguing day jobs or hobbies that frame the mysteries,
adding interesting background appeal. There’s a cozy mystery for
almost any profession: archaeologist (Barbara Cleverly’s Laetitia
Talbot), biographer (Anthea Fraser’s Rona Parish), blacksmith
(Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow), caterer (Diane Mott Davidson’s
Goldy Bear), home-repair person (Sarah Graves’ Jacobia Tiptree),
and 1950s housekeeper (Dorothy Cannell’s Florence Norris).
Hobbies are just as diverse. Amy Myers writes a classic car series;
Monica Ferris and Kate Jacobs are among the authors of knitting
and needlecraft series; Parnell Hall frames his Puzzle Lady series
with crossword and Sudoku puzzles. Unusual investigators abound
as well. Both Carolyn Hart and Nancy Atherton employ ghosts as
detectives, Alan Bradley and Martha Grimes feature child sleuths,
and Rita Mae Brown and Spencer Quinn rely on animals who talk
but not necessarily to their humans.
Settings are important, too. These mysteries are set in com-
munities, contemporary and historical, around the world, from
Christie’s quiet but deadly English villages to Philadelphia’s
Armenian American enclave in Jane Haddam’s Gregor Demark-
ian series; a twelfth-century English monastery in Ellis Peters’
Brother Cadfael mysteries; or Botswana, home to Alexander
McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe. Cozy mysteries make great
suggestions for travelers, actual and armchair, who enjoy reading
about people and places across the U.S. and around the world.
No audio collection is complete without cozy mysteries. In fact,
many fans wait for the audio version, because they’ve connected
with both narrator and characters. Cozy mystery series on DVD
also fill our collections. Whether book-based or written for televi-
sion or the movies, there’s no denying the continuing popularity
of series such as Murder, She Wrote or the myriad British television
adaptations (Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, Grantchester, Rosemary
& Thyme, and Hamish Macbeth, to name a few).
Identifying cozy mysteries usually isn’t difficult. Reviews
clearly indicate their gentle tone, and a keyword search for “cozy
mystery” on Booklist Online will bring up a host of titles and
authors. Savvy readers’ advisors know other tricks as well. Puns
dominate current cozy mystery titles, as in the recent Once upon
a Grind (Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse series), Litter of the Law (Rita
Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy mystery), Eggs in a Casket (Laura
Childs’ Cackleberry Club mysteries), All the Pretty Hearses (Mary
Daheim’s Bed and Breakfast novels), and Paw and Order (
Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie series). Book jackets usually feature
pastels, rather than the signature black-and-red of grittier crime
novels, and the art suggests the humorous tone as well as the
crime. Stop You’re Killing Me ( stopyourekillingme.com) covers
the whole mystery genre, but the indexes for Location, Job, Historical, Diversity, and Genre (including holiday mysteries) are
particularly useful when working with cozy fans.
Librarians know how popular cozies are and, with their diverse
and intriguing characters, backgrounds, and settings, how appealing they are to a broad range of readers. Even if cozies aren’t
your cup of tea, check out our list of essential cozy authors and
titles in print and in audio (on p. 12 of this issue) to guarantee
your collection has the authors your readers love.
with Joyce Saricks
IN PRAISE OF COZY MYSTERIES
JOYCE SARICKS, in addition to being Booklist’s Audio Editor, is the author of the second edition of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (ALA Editions, 2009).
May RA Tip: Cozy mysteries make excellent crossover sug-
gestions for fans of gentle reads, those satisfying, lighthearted,
and heartwarming titles without profanity, sex, and violence.
Cozies simply add a pleasant puzzle to the wholesome mix.