Nathan Bransford, Author

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cozy Mystery. What's That?

By: Kay Elam

When I was writing my first novel, I knew it was a mystery, but I wasn’t sure of its sub-genre. At a writing conference I was telling someone about my book and they said, “Oh, it’s a cozy.” I simply agreed instead of admitting I’d never heard of such a thing. Since that conference I’ve found many people (including writers) aren’t aware of this popular sub-genre even if they’ve been reading cozies for years.

A cozy is fun. It’s a fast-paced, feel-good read that, when you put it down, you can hardly wait to get back to it. Clues (as well as a few wild-goose chases) are given so the reader will want to solve the mystery along with the sleuth. The victim is not someone with whom the reader has a real emotional attachment—he’s the villain after all—so the reader isn’t dismayed by his/her death. There are twists and turns as well as surprising revelations but, in the end, justice always prevails and the sleuth is the heroine (or hero).

The cozy’s heroine is usually an amateur sleuth (think Jessica Fletcher). This is a role she’s just fallen into because she’s intelligent, intuitive, and inquisitive. She’s usually connected to the crime by someone she knows or because she was nearby when it happened. Often she solves the crime to protect someone important to her. The sleuth is likable, though flawed in a way that is not going to offend the reader. (She eats in bed, is always late, smokes, gossips, smacks chewing gum, or has some other character defect that shows she's less than perfect—just like the reader.)

The sleuth has strong relationships, though not necessarily romantic. She has lots of friends, family, acquaintances who feed her missing links to solve the mystery. These characters are often eccentric, annoying, or amusing—just like people we all know. Frequently the protagonist has a friend or spouse who know facts about the crime that aren’t yet public. This could be a member of the police force (or the sheriff), the medical examiner, the district attorney, a nosy neighbor—you get the idea.

The cozy’s sleuth usually has another job—solving crimes is just something she does because somebody has to do it. She might be a business owner (florist, bookstore, hotel, caterer, etc.), doctor, lawyer, chef, librarian, journalist, tour guide, pet sitter, and so on—or she might be retired with extra time on her hands. Instead of or in addition to a profession, a cozy might center on hobbies such as crafts, puzzles, sewing, needlework/knitting, quilting, golf, tennis, gardening, and genealogy, among others. Some cozies have a theme like the holidays, animals (cats, dogs, horses, birds, etc.), or even religion.

There is often a romantic subplot, but no explicit sex scenes, and there is little, if any, profanity.

The murder in a cozy isn’t described with a lot of details. It usually happens before the book begins or at the very beginning. Sometimes there are multiple murders, but even they are usually off the page. They’re described in general terms—no blood and gore.

A cozy is often geographically specific, usually in a small town or village, but may also be in a “closed” setting like an office, hotel, train, etc. My novel is set in a well-known medium-sized city, but is limited to a specific section of town.

Of course there has to be law enforcement—but they are often short-staffed, kidnapped, out of town, or otherwise unavailable which is why a small town setting works so well. Procedural accuracy is often overlooked in this genre and the police seldom take the protagonist seriously. A lot of cozies are written as a part of a series because a series allows the reader to become emotionally involved with the recurring characters on an ongoing basis.

The real measure of a cozy, in my opinion, is whether or not it’s a book you’d want to read while snuggled in to your favorite chair on a cold, rainy afternoon—a book that when you finish you’ll have a smile on your face and will wonder when the next one will be published.

Kay Elam blogs on MWF at She lives in Nashville, TN with her husband and her imagination. 


D.G. Hudson said...

Liked your definition of a cozy mystery. It's the type of book that will appeal to those who don't like the gritty, swearing ex-cops or drunken PIs.

Personally I like the grittier mystery/suspense novels most of the time, since they tend to be closer to reality.

Thanks for your insight.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that, I always wondered what a cozy was. I don't read a lot of crime fiction, when I do it's mostly thrillers, so I wouldn't have known the difference if I was staring at one.

I think we're getting to the point that we have so many genres and cross-genres that we need a list. Or... we could go back to the old umbrella terms that did a good job of categorizing most things and a terrible job of those few experimental works that didn't really fit into any known genre.

MsALWalker said...

And Now I know what a cozy mystery is. I printed your post out for future reference. Thanks for that!

T. Anne said...

This is a great explanation Kay. I like the idea of mood and location ruling the roost! Makes me want to, well, get cozy.

Anna said...

Sometimes cozies will include a recipe or knitting pattern or "crafty" hint along with the story. It's fun to get an extra treat after a satisfying read!

Sarah Shaber said...

Just because cozies are less graphic than their gritter relatives doesn't mean they don't grapple with important and timely issues, either!

twittertales said...

Kerry Greenwood writes Australian cozies. One series features Phrynne Fisher, who is gorgeous and rich and lives in the 1920s. The other features arg-I've-forgotten-her-name but she works in the "Earthly Delights" bakery in modern Melbourne, and is overweight. Both often tackle serious issues (recovery from drugs - and of course solving murder cases) but in a non-traumatising way.

Kay Elam said...

@ Sarah & Twittertales: I agree cozies often tackle serious issues. Mine, for example has infidelity, multiple addictions, embezzlement, kidnapping and of course murder.

I like how Twittertales puts it -- solving the crimes "in a non-traumatizing way." That pegs it exactly.


Mira said...

I love cozys, and I think you explained it really well!

They are lovely books - comfortable and fun - and I can get addicted to the slow unraveling of the character and their lives. Cozy books, indeed. :)

Mariam Maarouf said...

Did you write my novel?? Haha..
Love the post!

Elle Strauss said...

Kay, thanks so much for defining cozy's so distinctly!

The Red Angel said...

Oh gosh, now you make me want to write a cozy. :3


Margo Dill said...

I like how you agreed that you were writing a cozy at the writing conference, and then you went to figure out what that was. :) I do that same type of thing all the time.

Good luck with YOUR cozy.


Best Romance Novels said...

Great post! I knew nothing about the "cozy" subgenre until now. I have read several "cozy" mysteries and I do really enjoy them. Now I know exactly what to call them. Thanks!

Sara said...

That's so funny - I was reading another blog recently about "cozies" and everyone was chiming in or arguing etc. and I had no idea what they were (and was too embarrassed to ask :) Thank you for this and congrats on yours!

Janiel Miller said...

NOW I get it! Simply and succinctly put.Thanks so much


Lexi said...

Kay, that's great; now I know all about cozies from your entertaining and informative post.

Any chance of your running through all the other genres? Maybe one of them will fit my slightly mongrel novel...

Layla Fiske said...

Thanks so much! I've been hearing that term used alot and wondered exactly what it was...

I loved your reference to Jessica Fletcher...ha! I've always been embarassed to admit that she's one of my favs. (tv show w/Angela Lansbury) corny but cozy!

As crazy as it sounds...she's part of my inspiration to want to be a writer.

Does anyone have any suggestions/favs for good reads on cozys?

Sheila Cull said...

"Ah, now I understand cozy mystery." Sheila said.

Very well written - congratulations.

Kay Elam said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.

@ Mariam--Maybe. Now I've just got to find an agent and get it published :-)

@ Layla, my absolutely favorite cozy writer is the late great Anne George with her Southern Sisters mystery Series. She has titles like Murder on a Bad Hair Day and Murder on a Girls' Night Out.

I like Debbie Macomber's books and I'd consider her Blossom Street series and her Cedar Cove Series cozies though they aren't always mysteries.

My suggestion is to Google a hobby, profession, animal or section of the country you like + cozy mystery and see what you find.

I'd love to know what you think of them after you have read some.

Kay Elam

Layla Fiske said...

Thanks Kay. I'll check them out and keep you posted. :-)

Thermocline said...

Thanks Kay. I never knew what that term meant. That was a great explanation.

Ah, Jessica Fletcher. My mom used to lover her some, "Murder She Wrote."

Ermo said...

So, I loved Encyclopedia Brown books when I was a kid - are those considered cozies for kids?

Great blog post.

Julie Anne Lindsey said...

I LOVE a good Cozy! I fall right in step on location and become so absorbed in the town the people the MC especially. They're so much fun to read that I would love to one day write one that measures up! Thanks for a great article, maybe you turned a few more readers onto Cozys!

Julie True said...

I'm just wondering if you need to wear a Snuggie- ( while reading a cozy?

It'd be great. You could say to your friends, "I'm going to sit in my Snuggie and read my cozy. Have a good night."

It evokes an image, doesn't it?

Hart Johnson said...

Ha! Love it! I'm doing my polish of my first Cozy Mystery as we speak. I hadn't even known what it was the first time a friend told me I had the perfect voice for them--and I could go down your list and check pretty much every mark! (My heroine's flaw is she is a little fast and loose with the truth... tells it as she WANTS it to be a little more than as it is...she does PR so that is just 'spin'.)

Anonymous said...

I like mysteries that are in-between: with a puzzle or challenge to solve and some danger, but not too much gore. That's why I like the Janet E. books--lots of fun, with some wild rides, though some of the plots play fast and loose.

What do you call those books: medium-boiled?

Kay Elam said...

@ Julie True -- LOL. Now that's marketing! I actually have two Snuggies and, you're right they're great to snuggle into with a good book.

@ Ermo -- I'm not sure about the Encyclopedia Brown books as cozies for kids ... maybe.

@ Anonymous (9:59 a.m.) -- I've seen JE's books classified as cozies, though I'm not sure I agree.

@ Hart -- I think your heroine might be one of the supporting characters in my book, only in mine she's a country music singer wannabe. Good luck with your book.

Thanks everyone for the comments.


Perry said...

The most aptly named genre I can think of. The cozy sometimes deals with very grizzly murders, but as you say always off the page.

As a fan of the cozy I have a rule - never live in a small town - English or American, people are always killing their friends and neighbors.


Kay Elam said...

@ Perry -- love your rule. I grew up in a town of 3,011. Now I live in a city :-)

Doug Pardee said...

I think I'd add that the sleuth in cozies is usually not put in any real peril. It's not a knuckle-biter. Which also means you often don't get the "big climax".

A lot of cozy plots feature a second murder that occurs fairly late in the story. That murder is usually of someone barely involved with the original victim or the investigation. Occasionally the second victim will have been the prime suspect for the original murder. The solution of the mystery then hinges on determining why the second person was murdered—what was the motive?

I'd say that maybe the most classic cozies are Agatha Christie's, especially Miss Marple.

A.J. Cattapan said...

I've been reading cozies for years, but I didn't know that's what they were called until a year ago!

Of course, I love the Miss Marple mysteries, but I've also been reading Joanna Fluke's cozies. Her website is, and her books come with lots of great recipes.

It is now my goal for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) to try my hand at my very own cozy. :)

Marilyn Levinson said...

Thanks for your thorough and accurate description of a cozy mystery.
Marilyn Levinson

Ishta Mercurio said...

Nancy Drew, anyone?

Cozy in Texas said...

Great description of a cozy. I was at the Austin Book Festival last week-end and I was disappointed that I didn't come across any cozies there.
Cozy In Texas

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