We love mystery!

Cozy Mystery (part 2)

Many episodes ago, Brook and Sarah discussed cozy mysteries with Melissa Bourbon. Catch up on that conversation here. But, there was no deep dive into the sub-genre. In today’s episode, the oversight is corrected with a look at the popular category.


The Cat Who Could Read Backwards (1966) Lilian Jackson Braun

Agatha Christie

Rita Mae Brown

Richard Osman

Murder She Wrote (1984-1991) CBS

Midsomer Murders (1997-2023) ITV

Psych (2006-2014) USA Network

Bones (2005-2017) Fox

Father Brown Mysteries (2013-2023) BBC/Britbox

Sister Boniface Mysteries (2023) BBC/BritBox

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012-2015) ABC

iZombie (2015-2019) The CW

G.K. Chesterton

Ngaio Marsh

For more information

Instagram: @cluedinmystery
Contact us: hello@cluedinmystery.com
Music: Signs To Nowhere by Shane Ivers – www.silvermansound.com
Sign up for our newsletter: https://cluedinmystery.com/clued-in-cartel/
Join the Clued in Cartel: https://cluedinmystery.com/clued-in-chronicle/


This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook and we both love mystery.
SarahHi, Brook.
BrookHi Sarah how are you doing today?
SarahI’m doing really Well how about you?
BrookI’m great as we recording this is the day after Thanksgiving. As we’re recording this is the day after Thanksgiving in the US and so I celebrated with friends and family. But I would all just also just like to express my thankfulness for this community and for you. Sarah. I just love the direction that Clued In Mystery is going and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
SarahI agree, Brook. And yesterday wasn’t thanksgiving here in Canada but I am also grateful for all of those things.
SarahSo today we are going to talk about cozy mystery and for other subgenres in the mystery space. We’ve followed the model of you and I, Brook taking a deep dive and talking about kind of the history of the genre and and some of the conventions of it and then bringing on a guest to talk a little bit about the genre as well and we realized that we actually didn’t do that with cozy mystery. We just had the guest episode in our first season I think with Melissa Bourbon who came on and we had a great conversation with her but we didn’t do that deep dive so that’s what we’re going to fix today.
BrookThat’s right. So the term cozy mystery is actually quite recent. It was coined in the late twentieth century at a time when contemporary writers were trying to recreate that feeling that the traditional mystery novels from the golden age. Of detection fiction provided to its readers and you’ll remember the big names from the 1920s and 30s we have previous episodes on many of them. They include Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, Nagio Marsh and many others. But the mysteries from this time period were essentially intellectual puzzles offering all the clues necessary for a reader to solve the crime along the way with the fictional sleuth. The traditional mysteries were conservative stories featuring a comfortable social structure such as an English village or an academic institution and then it’s shockingly disrupted by a murder. Enter the gifted sleuth who is able to somewhat miraculously solve the crime and bring comfort and order back to the world following the world wars crime fiction took on darker grittier tones. These were the hard-boiled detective novels of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Hard-boiled or noir novels are less about the strict puzzle and more about the dark world of crime and the seedy life of the detective. They’re rather nihilistic.
BrookCozy mysteries therefore began as a revival of the Golden Age style of more lighthearted mysteries, counterpoints to those darker detective stories being published. Cozies have a lot in common with the novels of the 20s and 30s. But they have their own set of expectations too and this is what I’m going to call the conventions of cozy mystery. So there is a crime and it’s many times a murder and it’s investigated by a usually female amateur sleuth with some type of special skill. The setting is typically rural or at least a small, tightknit neighborhood. Oftentimes the sleuth has a relationship with someone in a professional capacity in order to gain information, maybe an attorney, the medical examiner  or a detective or police officer. And many times this leads to a love connection. There are also things cozies won’t have cozy mysteries will not have curse words graphic violence and no harm to an animal, a child, or a vulnerable adult.
BrookAnd cozies will also not have any sex on the page. You can see that within those parameters. There’s a lot of wiggle room. A whole continuum of stories that may or may not be classified as cozy and clearly there’s some overlap with traditional mystery I think all cozies are traditional mysteries but not all traditional mysteries are cozy.
BrookWe’ve created some visuals for you to illustrate the continuum and kind of the similarities and differences between cozies and traditional mysteries. And I don’t know that these are illustrations are perfect yet but more works and project, but more works in progress that hopefully Sarah and I can adjust and amend over time now. Cozies had already gained a large following by the mid 2010s but the subgenre boomed in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic. Things were dark and grim enough, we didn’t need our fiction to be. And to be fair, traditional, Golden Age mysteries also came back into popularity and a lot of people began reading those again as well. And it was at this time that both traditionals and cozies became popular with younger readers in their 20s and 30s. It kind of widened the audience for both of them from its usual like 40 and up. So while there’s a huge readership of cozy mysteries, not everyone is a fan. The idea of cozy crime itself is sometimes criticized. Richard Osman says that he hadn’t even heard the term cozy when he started writing his Thursday Murder Club series.
BrookHe just wanted to write a modern mystery series that harkened back to Agatha Christie’s style Osmon is of the camp that Christie’s stories aren’t cozy mysteries and he even feels that the term cozy crime is an oxymoron other mystery fans. Find titles in this subgenre rather twee or silly. There again I think it’s important to note that there’s a large spectrum of stories that reside under the umbrella of the cozy conventions. So, everything from very clean, traditional mysteries to the very sweet stories that I’ve learned that some readers are now calling “cutesies.” My research this week has led me to spend a lot of time thinking about why cozies are such a draw for so many readers and I’ve come to the conclusion that we might need to add another requirement to the list of those conventions. And this would be the way that a mystery makes us feel in reading a cozy, we generally care about or at least like the characters we take comfort in knowing that the crime will be neatly resolved in the end and we enjoy a fun trip to a quaint setting all while joining an Average Joe on a crime solving adventure.
SarahThank you, Brook that was such a great explanation of cozies and the difference between or the relationship maybe between cozy mysteries and traditional mysteries. And I love the idea of “cutsies” as um, kind of a sub-sub genre because yeah I think that there’s as with so much about mystery, you know there’s a real spectrum of the kind of mystery that you can get, even under this smaller umbrella.
BrookYeah, Absolutely yes. That was a new term for me but I do think that it has a lot of value in being able to differentiate the different kinds of these stories. This wasn’t easy and it’s still not easy for me to you know, sort of parcel out the idea of traditional versus cozy. And I think that is part of the reason that we haven’t gone here yet for this subgenre which is so interesting because technically I would say both of us write fiction that falls under the umbrella of these cozy conventions. But again, it’s like where exactly do we fit? Are we more closely related to the traditionals. You know where are you on that spectrum? It’s complicated I think.
SarahI I agree I mean often when I think about cozies I think about there being a thing that the sleuth has. Whether it’s that they work in a bakery or they you know are part of a quilting group or whatever. It’s either something crafty or the place where they work or their hobby that kind of really shapes who they are as a character. Which, that’s what I associate typically with cozies.
BrookAnd thinking about that like you say it’s their job or it’s their hobby that really ah brings out the theme or the the feel of the book and it made me realize that sometimes I think for many of these books readers are reading just as much for the world building and that experience than they are as they are for the mystery. Um, you know it’s a little bit when you go to Disneyland and everything or another theme park. You know everything takes you into that world. The the walking path is the correct type of stone for the era you know and the buildings look right? And and ah I feel like a really good cozy for those ones that are like craft or hobby based. Kind of builds everything around the the reader so that they are enjoying the scenery and the cute little town and the delicious food just as much that experience as solving the crime.
SarahI think they often you know the off sorry I think those books often include whether it’s a recipe, something that’s been featured in the book. Um, you know a cake recipe or cookies or maybe ah, um, a savory dish. Ah. Or I think there’s one that includes like a knitting pattern. And so you know I think that’s also a draw for the readers right? Like if you are someone who likes to bake then you know picking up a new recipe as well as solving a crime alongside of. Ah, you know a group of characters that you’ve come to really like I can definitely see the appeal in that.
BrookAbsolutely. Ah yeah I think that the authors that do those ah series really well tend to have a lot of extras for their readers and they’re almost building their own little community. Ah, and so that then outside of the reading there’s like this whole experience if you are like become part of their newsletter or their website, you get even more extras to make the whole world sort of come alive. And I think that’s a huge draw for this. And that ah again was such something that was really important when we were all locked down and we were ah had the pandemic going. And as I said in the intro that was a time that people really found out about cozies and that community and feeling of like a cute little wonderful town I think was just so necessary and such a nice salve for everybody during that really hard time.
SarahYeah, no, that’s that’s totally true. So when I was doing a little bit of reading about this, Brook, I noticed that the Mystery Writers of America recently established the Lillian Jackson Braun Award. And so they established it in 2022 for the best contemporary cozy mystery. Ah, and my understanding is that that’s the first time that cozy mysteries specifically have been recognized as a category by the mystery writers of America.
SarahSo Lillian Jackson Braun she wrote The Cat Who series. So the first three books were published in the 1960s the first one was The Cat Who Could Read Backwards and that was 1966. But it was nearly two decades later that the fourth book came out. And so that was you know in the mid-1980s. And then they were very popular, continue to be released until shortly before her death in I believe 2009 is when she died.
SarahAnd I think there were a total of 29 books that were published in that in that series. That series features the amateur sleuth is a male, and he solves crimes with his cats and so that’s you know, pets being a key part of cozy mysteries.
BrookAbsolutely yeah I definitely feel that Lillian Jackson Braun is a pioneer I guess of this probably one of the very first authors who made that leap like we said between um, the Golden Age then we had some of these grimmer darker mysteries and then these people in that. Probably the 80s is really when it took off when her series then obviously was picked up and she added books. Um I remember reading those when I was ah probably a teenager and um, even then because you know, being a reader in that time period they felt so different because they were that lighthearted. You know there were the idea of having pets involved in the story. Um, yeah, very new, very different I definitely think that she’s probably one of the first people that picked that up and ran with it.
SarahWell and and I think you can kind of draw a line from her books to a lot of the other books that we see in that genre in terms of the conventions that she established as being part of the cozy genre. Even if they weren’t being called cozy yet. The other author that I think influenced cozy mysteries is Rita Mae Brown and her first book was published in 1990. And that features pets also helping the sleuth but these are talking pets. So I think that’s the difference between um Braun’s books is that I don’t think that they ah I don’t think that the pets in those books speak or speak to each other but they do in Rita Mae Brown.
BrookWe see that the sub-sub-genres I guess you would say because when we look at the the popular cozies we have you already mentioned like culinary like the bakeries. There’s also um the pets, the series that really weigh heavily on the pets and then crafts and hobbies. There’s historical cozies which are really fun and popular right now. And then paranormal, where either the pets are talking or there are actually supernatural creatures involved. Ah so even within the cozy subgenre then we have all these different categories and with really specific reader groups I will say. Like people who read paranormal cozies are not really that interested in reading you know, historical or non-paranormal or one of the other categories. It’s interesting.
SarahYeah, that’s I think that’s a really great point that there’s definite preferences that the audiences have and not necessarily the overlap, even though kind of they fall under that larger cozy umbrella.
BrookSo, Sarah I hinted in the intro about Richard Osmon saying that Agatha Christie did not write cozies. And we’ve had other guests on—Teresa Peschel is a guest and Chronicles of Crime was a guest who both are extremely knowledgeable in the world of mystery who are adamant that those are not cozy mysteries. So, what’s your opinion on that?
SarahI mean I think I agree I think a lot of Christie’s work kind of fits in that cozier space especially the Miss Marple books that are you know set in St Mary Mead so it’s a small community. But the crimes themselves I don’t think are necessarily cozy and she did not subscribe to the convention of no harm to children because that does happen in a few books. Um, yeah I think I would agree I don’t I don’t think she’s cozy. What about you?
BrookI I probably lean a little bit more toward the idea that her Miss Marple series are some of the beginnings of the cozy. You know I feel like that there are some of those stories that are rather cozy. And I wonder how much ah because you’re right like ah kids are not sacred sacred territory in ah Christie stories nor our pets. There are some things that she will do in her stories that you would not see in a cozy nowadays. But I wonder if it’s just that. It’s a time period situation. I mean children in general were treated much differently in the 20s and 30s. You know, not even really considered people yet until they became adults. So I think part of it is like the timeline and culture.
BrookBut I see like as you were saying drawing the line I mean you can draw a line from what she was doing in the Miss Marple with this amateur sleuth in a small community to you know what we’re seeing now with contemporary cozies.
SarahShould we talk a little bit Brook about some cozier crime series on television because I you know I think there are some great examples. Certainly you know I think Murder She Wrote would be one of the real contributors to the popularity of the book genre in the mid 1980s. And I know there were some so spinoff books that were written after the television series began, which I think is really interesting. Kind of that reverse because it’s typically the other way right? where a book inspires. Ah um, an adaptation on screen. But there’s also some cozier police dramas Um, and you know I.
SarahAnd think of Midsommer Murders which is I don’t know how many seasons of Midsommer murders. There are but there’s a lot. But they’re pretty cozy. You know it’s in a small community. Ah, you don’t really see that um the violence on screen. But the investigation rather than being led by an amateur is led by police detectives. Um, and there you know I think there are a few other examples that we could name of kind of cozier police dramas um and whether if you know if we were forced to classify them I suppose we wouldn’t be able to consider them cozies because it’s not an amateur sleuth.
BrookTrue yeah in there we there again. We get come back to that sliding scale between traditional mystery and cozy mystery. That’s just really hard to nail down sometimes, as you say I think Murder She Wrote was such a contributor and it’s right in that same timeline right when you were saying the Braun and the Brown mystery series. And in fact, that is a very It’s a great shorthand that I use when somebody says that they don’t know what the cozy mystery genre is I’ll say well have you ever watched Murder She Wrote you know and then you can name off. You know it’s an amateur sleuth who and you can kind of name those conventions and that’s a really helpful way to to explain to someone what they’re getting into if you. You know mention the cozy mystery genre. Um I would also mention something like a Psych ah for Tv shows. Um for a cozy mystery tv show and um and I really think Bones even though it’s a little bit gory sometimes because she’s a what forensic pathologist. It definitely has the um, the cozy feeling of being humorous and lighthearted.
SarahYeah I would I think I would agree with that. Um, and it meets that criteria that you mentioned in the introduction where she’s working closely with the police. Um and there is that kind of romance that develops between her and um and Booth. Some other examples I would include are Miss Fisher so that’s a more historical, cozy mystery um television program Father Brown also historical and then the spinoff from that Sister Boniface. And then from a YA cozy kind of crossover I would include iZombie, which is actually I guess it’s YA, cozy, and paranormal.
BrookOh that’s great. Yeah, and again bring those younger ah mystery fans in I think it’s wonderful that you mentioned the Father Brown Mysteries. Ah because in fact and we learned this when we covered G.K. Chesterton, he is actually considered maybe one of the Golden Age mystery authors who was in fact writing cozies maybe even easier to classify than some of the discrepancies with Agatha Christie stories um so I think it’s really wonderful that we’re still getting to enjoy his cozies. Even though they’re on TV and they’ve been adapted but um, his character is wonderful Father Brown and I believe that his stories are quite cozy, too.
SarahWell, Brook, thank you for this conversation I think it’s been really good for us to dive a little deeper into cozy mysteries and I suspect that there are some additional episodes that may spin out of this you know if we wanted to look more closely at some of the sub-sub-genres within that cozy space.
BrookYeah I would love to do that I think there’s a lot to discuss and this has been a long time coming but it was a great conversation. So thanks, Sarah and thank you, listeners, for joining us today on Clued in Mystery. I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah and we both love mystery.