Did you know that Agatha Christie is the BEST SELLING NOVEL WRITER OF ALL TIME? Only the Bible and Shakespeare have outsold her. It’s true, people love murder. Cozies are a particular brand of murder, though. For those of you who aren’t regular cozy readers or fans of Agatha (no way!), here are the genre conventions in a nutshell:
- The first murder happens pretty quickly.
- There is a limited pool of suspects; think a country village, a club, a team, etc.
- There is not a lot of foul language, sex happens off page, and there is a distinct lack of gore. Cozy murders are somewhat sterile and bloodless, or at least the blood is not discussed much on the page.
- There will be several good suspects all of whom have a secret.
- There will be red herrings.
- The murder is like a puzzle and the sleuth is usually an amateur, though there can be law enforcement involved.
NOTE: this is not an exhaustive list, nor will EVERY cozy conform to every convention on this list.
I have recently read two superb examples of this genre, which I found immensely satisfying and gripping reads. The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman and The Appeal by Janice Hallett. You can see reviews of each elsewhere on Readerly.net. Both of these are examples of playfulness within the genre. Each of them breaks at least one of the above genre conventions, but they are still squarely in the Cozy genre due to the limited pool of suspects and the amateur sleuthing. If you are a cozy writer, both of these titles represent aspirational works of quality writing, plotting, and character development. The Appeal deserves extra points for doing so in an epistolary format, which is a very difficult structure to maintain and to write well. Brava.
If you are thinking of writing your own cozy, I can recommend Nancy J. Cohen’s very excellent work, Writing the Cozy Mystery. I read the second expanded edition and found it very useful for thinking about how to write in this genre and do it well. I created a handout based on some of the advice in her book, available below. The handout helps you decide on a victim and a pool of suspects, so you can get started writing your own Cozy Mystery!