What is a cosy mystery anyway?

I enjoy writing in a number of different styles and genres, but I’m a cosy mystery gal through and through. Even when I try writing a different genre, at some point my murderous instincts take over and drown out any other attempt to jump generic ship.  Maybe I’ve written myself into a plot-corner and I’m not sure what to do, or I feel my story lacks a certain something, or things are going all too easily for one character or another, and there’s nothing for it. Someone has to die. I think it was Raymond Chandler who said (my paraphrase) ‘If in doubt, bring in someone with a gun’. So I think it is fair to say that I lean towards cosy mystery writing, with the occasional ill-fated foray into other genres. But there are so many sub-categories within genres, and the Crime genre is no exception.

For cosy mystery novels, some of the many subgenres include: international mystery, private investigators, women detectives, medical, legal, police procedural, technothrillers, and hard-boiled. The hard-boiled mystery, for example, is what is often referred to as Noir, or gum-shoe crime. they have evolved from the classics of the 40s and 50s and tend to be graphic, violent, and unconventional. The detective is usually an anti-hero, with all kinds of issues, anything goes, and the grittier and grislier the better. Often the end of the hard-boiled mystery is less cut-and-dried, leaving loose ends and a sense of a hollow victory.

The cosy mystery genre is a world apart from the hard-boiled mystery. The cosy is a type of traditional murder mystery with it roots in the Golden Age of mystery writing as penned by Agatha Christie, Gladys Mitchell, Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Patricia Wentworth and many more. The plots often revolve around social situations, perhaps a house party or dinner, as cosies of this type tended to feature the wealthier classes at play, with undercurrents of malice lurking discreetly behind curtains or across the bridge-table. The relationships represented tend to be of a conventional, traditional type, and the novels are usually set in the present or the recent past. The hard-boiled or noir can be more experimental, and is well-suited to futuristic, non-traditional and even non-earth settings.

Cosy means exactly that, these books are pure entertainment, with nothing too terrifying, nothing too realistic. In the Cosy, the story is all about unravelling the central mystery, usually a murder, and finding out whodunit by solving clues and working alongside the detective to find out the truth behind a crime, nearly always a murder*. Cosies will feature good believable characters without a great deal of introspection and issues. Usually there are only one or two main characters, and a host of minor characters, individualised to a greater or lesser extent. There will be a twisty, ingenious plot, and a keep-‘em-guessing array of clues and red herrings. Readers are expected to read between the line sin all conversations and to observe character behaviour minutely.

The cosy does not feature large quantities of gory murder scenes or long descriptions of stomach-clenching forensic information. The cosy does not include explicit sex or stronger bad language. There may be some saucy shenanigans but nothing too graphic goes on ‘on-stage’, any filth is conducted behind carefully closed doors. Life lessons are not usually part of the cosy mystery, nor should you expect comments on social issues or deeply moving emotional scenes. Life is pretty good in the cosy mystery–for everyone except the perpetrator and the victim of course. Here again, in the cosy, the victim is not likely to suffer agonies or torture; death is usually contrived in a quick and ingenious manner.

Usually, though not always, the main protagonist is the sleuth who is going to solve the mystery for us. They will likely–though not always–be an amateur detective, often someone involved on the periphery of the murder. Of late, it has become the trend to write themed cosies centred around a hobby or service. For example, a lot of stories are set in book shops, craft groups or cookery schools, hotels, or might involve pet-sitters, mediums, hairdressers, gardeners, wedding planners, or interior decorators. This allows the author to introduce a range of situations and characters, which is a great way to produce a detective and a series that will keep fans coming back time and again.

The cosy is all about solving a puzzle, and reestablishing the status quo. The book should leave readers feeling ‘Ahh,’ at the end, not ‘OMG OMG!’ and they should definitely be able to pat themselves on the back for a detective job well done. The cosy is intended purely for escapist fun, which is another reason why the author needs to write plenty of them–readers will close one book and immediately reach for the next.


*please note: other crimes are available!



3 thoughts on “What is a cosy mystery anyway?

  1. Does a cozy mystery have to be a ‘whodunit’? There is never any doubt in my cozy ‘who’ is guilty but because of false alibis and no ‘body’ they are going to get away with it until my two amateur sleuths step in to pull those alibis apart and eliminate possible places the body is concealed until they hit on where the body is buried.

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