Unfortunately, your access has now expired. But there’s good news—by subscribing today, you will receive 22 issues of Booklist magazine, 4 issues of Book Links, and single-login access to Booklist Online and over 200,000 reviews.
Your access to Booklist Online has expired. If you still subscribe to the print magazine, please proceed to your profile page and check your subscriber number against a current magazine mailing label. (If your print subscription has lapsed, you will need to renew.)
Free Trial, activate profile, or subscribe
Find more At Leisure with Joyce Saricks
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), blacksmith (Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow), caterer (Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Bear), and home-repair person (Sarah Graves’ Jacobia Tiptree). Hobbies are just as diverse. Rita Mae Brown writes a Foxhunting 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 communities, 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 Demarkian 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 television 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.00 of this issue) to guarantee your collection has the authors your readers love.
May RA Tip: Cozy mysteries make excellent crossover suggestions 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.
Free Trial, activate profile, or subscribe