2014: The Year of the Cozy Mysteries

19th February 2015

I’ve never much been a fan of the cozy mystery, though I’ve loved mysteries since I was small. I do, however, enjoy mystery series, watching the lead character evolve across installments. A cozy mystery, though, was always a bit too…cozy for my taste, the towns quaint, the characters a little too one dimensional, the tropes a bit forced.

Last year was a dark and stormy year – maybe not literally, but in 2014, I read 68 books; roughly 27 of those were cozy mysteries.

Literary fiction felt too hard last year, and that’s every bit the pathetic statement it sounds. Cozy mysteries, for all their fun, are easy reads. The characters don’t change much. There’s no real darkness to most of them, as often there isn’t even a murder with which to contend. They are, in essence, an excellent way to shield readers from anything too tawdry – no sex, no murder, no dark secrets.

I think last year’s hiatus from blogging (a couple posts here and there don’t count) was largely due to the constant stream of cozies coming in and out of my house, as I would return them to a secondhand bookstore and pick up a handful more. As a “serious book blogger,” reading cozies felt like cheating, and I guess in a way it was. So why on earth would I blog about cheating? And while I’m every bit a proponent of reading what you want when you want, something felt off – for me, personally. [I say this because one of my very favorite blogs Kittling: Books only really discusses cozy mysteries, and she is my go-to source for new authors of the genre.]

I started reading these as an experiment for writing one of my own. I loved Josie Belle’s books; I hated Joanne Fluke’s books with Hannah the baker as the protagonist. Yet if you look at the list of what I read, Joanne Fluke appeared most often. That infuriated/s me as each book begins the same way: the reader is introduced to a character that may have popped up in a previous book but whom the reader doesn’t know well. That person is killed, often with Hannah’s baked goods partially eaten or lying around the victim. Recipes abound. Hannah’s sister (wife of the police chief) and mother help out. Sometimes her younger sister appears. Two men, one the town’s dentist and the other a detective, vie for her affection, playfully, without so much as a hint of actual jealousy. And after each book I went back, not fully comprehending how Hannah (in the 21st century!) existed without a cell phone or laptop and what on earth made her so interesting two men would love (and be ok with loving) a woman who kissed both of them at random, always wondering which she should pick.

See? Doesn’t just the description make you a bit insane? The boyfriend, politely I must say, consistently wondered why I would show up with yet another baked goods mystery each time. “Don’t you hate those?” he’d ask (because yes, I do subject him to these conversations). “Yes,” I’d answer, and shove my nose back into the book.

Perhaps I’d forgive myself if 2014 were a rough year. If, say, I’d lost a job or been ill, or had a loss in the family, or, or, or. But I can’t use any of those excuses. 2014 was a wonderful year. My brother got married in New York. The guy and I celebrated a one-year anniversary. I loved my job and expanded the work we do. My only excuse was that I edited several manuscripts last year – one a serious memoir, another a piece of nonfiction, and yet another, a translated short story collection.

If I even tried to pick up something more serious, I’d end up a few pages in, bored or, worse, passive.

I’ve read some wonderful posts in recent months about the need for diversity in reading (Estella’s Revenge is only one), and while, yes, actual diversity in terms of race and experience and gender are all very necessary for our whitewashed Western world, these posts have only reinforced also my own personal need for diversity among genre and topic.

Cozy mysteries sucked me in. It was like a diet of all cookies, all the time. And I loooove cookies. Iced sugar ones, especially. But a diet of iced sugar cookies can only sustain one for so long. I binged last year, it’s true. And while I won’t say I’m quitting cold turkey, I’m modifying my reading diet.

2015 has already introduced me to wonderful nonfiction and fiction (one coming out in April that I cannot wait to tell you all about), and I’m determined to make 2015 a more well-balanced year.

Every now and again, when I feel the little gray cloud appear above my head, I’ll indulge in the “dark and stormy” variety of fiction. Until then, I think I’ll set my sights on more gourmet fare.

  • Kristen M.

    I used to say I liked cozy mysteries until I actually read a couple of modern ones–coffeeshops and a bed & breakfast–and I finished them feeling somewhat unsatisfied and even a bit annoyed. So I guess, to be more accurate, I have to say that I like classic cozy mysteries and I certainly still go through cycles where I read more and less of them. I don’t think of them as lesser reads, just, to stick with your food analogy, a bit more like snacks.

    • Yes! And snack away. I just know I can’t do that all the time. But I do love them. I love the sort of artificial, small town feel many of them have. Hard to resist at times.

  • Amy

    A couple years ago, we expanded the number of book awards we offered, so I felt like I was reading a lot at work. For my spare time reading, I too went to the world of cozy mysteries. I read all 16 or so Hamish MacBeth mysteries out at the time and started the Her Royal Spyness series. Just what I needed at the time. But, like the summer I worked in a fudge shop, also cured me of a desire to indulge for quite some time after. I have picked up Her Royal Spyness again from time to time, but as an audio because the narrator is so good. Still, the lack of any character development in the genre is pretty hard to overlook after binging and then stepping away.

    • I like Hamish MacBeth too! And Her Royal Spyness!

      • Amy

        Hamish’s bachelorhood seems to be part of the story now, so I can forgive it and laugh at where it takes him. All the absurd situations to keep Darcy and Georgie apart- from sex and marriage- in Her Royal Spyness are really starting to wear thin for me though. Katherine Kellegren is the only reason I am coming back for the next one.

  • When you really love a genre, you enjoy the crap examples of the genre as well as the outstanding ones. I’ve enjoyed the hell out of so many stupid romances in my time.

  • I’ve always loved the idea of cozy mysteries, but then when I read them, there’s always something lacking. I adore mysteries, but I like them to be rich and meaty, with characters that are real and preferably that great twist I didn’t see coming at the end.

    • Yeah, me too, but from time to time, I don’t want to get spooked or read anything too dark. Have you read Tana French? She’s my favorite for twistiness.

      • Yes! She’s one of my favourites. SJ Bolton (she goes by Sharon Bolton in the States, I think) is an author I recently discovered who also has big twists.