I belong to an amazing group of creative businesswomen where we all help support one another in our desire to serve the public (for me, that means you, readers). When I shared with them this week that I’m shifting gears to focus on historical cozy mysteries, I got a somewhat deer-in-the-headlights look from a few of them who asked, “What’s a historical cozy mystery?”
It was my bad because every sector has its jargon. I forgot not everyone is familiar with the word “cozy” nor are they aware historical cozy mysteries exist. So I thought I’d write a little bit about it.
Let’s first start with the basics. A historical cozy mystery is really a subgenre of a subgenre. In writer-speak, genre is like a book’s specific subject with its own specific expectations. For example, romance is a genre (expectation: a love relationship, a happily-ever-after ending), and so is horror (expectation: You’re going to be scared out of your wits). Historical cozy mystery marries two subgenres: historical mysteries (subgenre of historical fiction) and cozies (subgenre of mystery fiction).
On the face of it, a historical cozy mystery is akin to the traditional mystery (sometimes called the “whodunit”). Think Agatha Christie. One of my favorite things to do at the end of a particularly stressful and annoying day is to relax on my recliner with a cup of peppermint tea and open up the Kindle reader on my iPad to a Poirot mystery (yes, he’s a pompous little man, but I like him). I immediately get into the mystery, following along with the clues and suspects, feeling the carefree times of early 20th-century post-World War I England. And Poirot always gets the criminal. Nowhere else in the 21st century can you find that kind of justice. It makes me feel soothed and, well, cozy, like all the bad things that happened during the day don’t matter.
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The cross between mystery and history becomes interesting when we consider the main purpose of historical fiction is to submerge readers into a world of the past, and the purpose of mystery fiction is to present a human puzzle for the amateur sleuth or detective (and the reader) to solve. Writers of historical cozy mysteries aren’t only building a story around a crime that has to be solved, but they’re also giving readers insights into another era. And not just the daily lives of people living in that era, but the kinds of crime and criminals of that era and how those crimes were solved.
We have to remember crime and its detection has changed drastically over the centuries. There were no cyber crimes in the 19th century. There was no DNA testing to help solve crimes until the late 20th century. So crime detection was relatively primitive and, until the late 19th century, pretty crude in most cases. That made it more of a challenge for the historical sleuth or detective, but funner for readers to follow because detectives must make do with their wits and skills rather than rely on forensic scientific evidence.
In Book 1 of my upcoming Adele Gossling Mysteries, Adele’s brother, a former big-city detective, is amazed that the small-town sheriff of Arrojo knows enough to block off the crime scene so no one will tamper with it. Even fifty years before (the book takes place in 1902), this wouldn’t have been the case and it’s well-documented that crime scenes were trampled over by police, reporters, and sightseers. Not a great start to solving a murder.
Another thing about cozy mysteries that differ from crime fiction, in general, is they introduce you to a host of quirky characters. That’s one reason I was drawn to writing cozies as opposed to other types of historical mysteries. Reading a cozy mystery series, the characters become as familiar to them as their own family and friends because, flawed as they are, they’re also likable. Who doesn’t love Jessica Fletcher in the 1980s hit TV series, Murder, She Wrote? She’s grandmotherly while at the same time she’s sharp-witted and bold. Holmes is a cocaine addict and an egotist but he also cares about solving crimes. Fletcher and Holmes couldn’t be more different, but they share one quality, as all cozy mystery sleuths do: They’re on the side of justice. And it’s hard to dislike someone who’s on the right side of the law.
Writers don’t always strive for likability in their characters because many feel that a too-likable character is an unrealistic one. But cozy mysteries aren’t about realism. They’re about escaping into another world where justice is served and criminals are always punished. And with historical cozies, you get the double-whammy: Not only do you get to escape into a “crime doesn’t pay” world but you get to do it during another era.
So if you’re ready to give historical cozy mysteries a shot, I invite you to check out my Adele Gossling Mystery series. The first book is on preorder at only 99¢ but not for long. You can get more information on that plus links to bookstores where you can get the book here.
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