The Reviewer's Corner - The Mystery of Cozy Mysteries
They're extremely popular. IMDB gives Murder, She Wrote—a series that might be close to the benchmark for modern “cozies”—an episode count of 285. And we've had at least 4 iterations of the self-effacing Miss Marple.
From the reader’s point of view: re-assuring. You won’t feel you need to sleep with the lights on. If you’re the kind of reader who likes to guess the ending, usually the ending is very guessable. Sure, somebody’s dead—but here’s a dynamite new recipe for brownies...and Mrs Bailey’s red peppers are as big as softballs! I particularly remember Miss Marple mentioning a “particularly stubborn dandelion” during one of her cases. Sure, somebody’s dead. But life goes on—and, really, we all have to go some time.
From the writer’s point of view: marketable, and easy to write. Publishers, risk averse (now more than ever), are attracted to the genre because it’s familiar and predictable. Its parameters are known—making it very easy to write, as well. Most of the characters are “off the shelf”, the settings are more or less stock (“Welcome to Our Village!”), and the narrative arcs well defined. The genre is not particularly fluid, or creative. Not Improvisational Jazz. Instead, more like Classical Jazz: where you show off your stuff by playing Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey just a little bit differently than everyone else.
From the reviewer’s point of view: soporific—and so I have to limit my intake, since my tendency to nod off at awkward times is already starting to get me in trouble. Essentially, you’re being asked to comment on how much better, or worse, a specific “cozy” title is: compared to what might be called the “cozy standard”. And is the “cozy standard” an existential search for truth (ala Lew Archer)? Nope. An exercise in sharp storytelling and kickass dialogue (ala Phillip Marlowe)? Nope. Are we watching the slow grinding of police procedure (ala Lucas Davenport)? Not really.
What you generally have in a “cozy” mystery is cocoa at bedtime, hand-knitted sweaters, and hopes for early tomatoes. And a dead body. Which makes people like me ask “what’s wrong with this picture?”—wondering why the folks in th story aren’t a little more upset.
But, as noted above, I’m in firmly in the minority, and I do look at these titles from time to time. I just have to remember not to drive, or operate heavy machinery, while reading them.