Definition Of The Broad “Cozy Genre”.

My blog celebrates its fifth anniversary!  Please enjoy the kitty photographs I share relating to the formation of RIEDEL Fascination.  My blog’s foremost purpose is to furnish a writer with a public place to write and invite conversations.  One of my first articles was an essay on the gothic mystery;  the standalone dominant fiction genre from the 1940s to 1990, replaced by “cozy mystery series”, in terms of mass-production.  Thankfully there are still “standard” and “gothic mysteries“.  I recommend starting with that article because it covers a lot of ground on the path today’s genre has taken, of which readers are likely unaware.

The natural segue leads me to an essay on “the cozy mystery”, in which my readership is as unpredicable as my bowling.  I am among the throngs owning these career-themed products, however I am not often enamoured by their quality.  I propose that “the cozy mystery” is derived of two types.  First, let’s settle the vagueness of its core!  I have never seen a more mislabelled genre, with authors like Agatha Christie lumped into it who do not belong, (not the Hercule Poirot suite) and any mystery with a pretty cover painted with the same brush.  A genre is defined by content.  I strongly recommend that we forget “Wikipedia” and the commonly-quoted “cozy” website, in favour of a fundamental definition we readers and reviewers agree upon!  If this core criteria matches your gauge of these books, we could clarify its definition once and for all and quote *this article*.

WHITTLED DOWN TO BASICS:  “cozy” refers to mysteries that aren’t gory or violent.  If they contain a murder (a crime is not necessary, nor synonymous with a mystery), we do not witness it.  A character encounters the aftermath.  Sexuality, unfortunately for adult readers, is watered-down and hinted at more than it is demonstrated.  This genre comes in the form of series that highlight a career:  a psychic, book collector, baker….  Plots are normally simple.  The usual blueprint is a body and a protagonist who does not rely on police to discover why.

Tone is as light as plot singularity.  Few of these series generate suspense;  these novels aren’t scary.  To the contrary they are pervaded by jocularity.  These things comprise the skeletal definition of a “cozy mystery”.  I loathe this diminutive term but imagine this title is going to stick.  I add lastly that novels of a “Nancy Drew” and “Hardy Boys” nature do not belong, with a youth demographic.  “Cozy mysteries” are for all intents and purposes, an adult genre.

SECONDARILY:  I have observed an expanded trait, submitted separately from the basic definition.  In the majority of cases, unfortunately there is also a spareness of quality.  There are exceptions I treasure and then hesitate to put in this category!  However the fact is, “cozy mysteries” do not tend to be the domain of the masterful writer.  This is why an avalanche of these novels tumbles forth every week, including the endless appearance of new authors;  or re-named ones who abound with ideas for yet another series.  If you can think of a new career theme, like a florist, and contrive a reason why an ordinary person would discover a corpse and enlist themselves to investigate its presence:  you have yourself “a cozy mystery”.  Quality writing, fascinating dialogue, brilliant plotting seldom factor into these carbon-copied productions and readers know that.  They simply love to knit, for example and are in it for the hobby.  If we possess the discernment between a masterful author and a trundled-out story, there is nothing wrong with that.

My favourite authors, in this genre, exemplify a gratefully-appreciated pallet of exceptions!  JULIET BLACKWELL pens a witch series containing the most creative mystery of all:  stories that do not feature a crime!  Some characters were villainous for other reasons;  dilemmas of a paranormal nature for instance.  Canada’s LYN HAMILTON too, did not always depict crimes and even when they occurred, her premises focused on archaeological legend and mystique.  In subject matter, Canada’s CHARLOTTE MACLEOD is admittedly as “cozy” as it gets.  It is her creative situations and literary skill that set her apart.  She is one of those authors with such an elevated calibre of eloquence;  it dawns on us that our vocabularies aren’t as vast!  Her way with words enthralls me by itself.  I get very pissed off if anyone automatically dismisses an author’s writing as “fluff”, because a lighter atmosphere places their premise under this heading.  Writing talent needs to be considered with open eyes, on an author by author basis.  CHARLOTTE’s writing is exceptional.  JULIET’s subject matter can be dark.  Neither of them are “fluff”.

For this reason, it has occurred to me that “the cozy genre” comes in two forms.
An author or series might receive this categorization because their mysteries aren’t very complex, their subject matter indeed light, and writing prowess not very high.  It is another “found a body” mystery, with a career backdrop slid into place, like a hastily-changed theatre production.  Same scenario, different coffee shop, right!?

ALTERNATIVELY, we have seen that it is possible for a superb author, with more compelling subject matter, to fit this genre because sexuality, gore, and violence are toned-down.

When there is a skilful author, heavy subject matter, and impressive plot complexity:  I call it a “STANDARS MYSTERY“.  Depending on its style and not necessarily age, it might also be defined:  a “CLASSIC MYSTERY“.  This is where I feel Agatha Christie’s “Hercule Poirot” series belongs.  The detective’s personality might be amusing and infinitely familiar to us but Agatha’s vocabulary was astounding.  Her plots wove in unprecedented directions, some of the situations gruesome, and characters have perished on-stage.  This series should most certainly not be called “light” or “simple”.  Does this make better sense, after defining genres at the bare bones level?

I caution against this mistake with pretty covers.  A cute cover does not equal “a cozy mystery”.  CLEA SIMON is a stark example because her chief topic is cats:  a loveable topic to me without question.  Her subject matter however, is too dark for this label.  The opener of one series contained a a threat of sexual assault.  Her character was also in danger of ingesting drugs at a night club.  This novel discussed the mistaken stigma of hoarding and execution of stray animals was threatened!  THERE IS NOT ONE “COZY” THING ABOUT ANY OF THIS.  Unfortunately, most people would categorize Clea’s series this way.

There is the fundamental definition of this genre and its two forks:  quality authorship with light subject matter, or simple writing altogether.  I hope I have guided readers on how to gauge content on an author by author basis.  “Cozy” writing cannot automatically be called “fluff”, no more than all series with eyecatching covers can be compounded into this genre.  Please always consider that there are “gothic“, “standard“, and “classic” mysteries too.

For fun:  which series or authors have you found mislabelled?  DAVID HANDLER is another.  The crime backgrounds are horrible and dialogue is adult.  JASMINE GALENORN’S ghost mysteries are dark and sexuality, hardcore.  Not our usual tea shop owner!

All of my reviews are in the menu called “Mine“, above.  If we have read the same books, I would love to see your reviews.  Mystery and other readers are certainly invited to my four groups:  like My Kind Of Mystery!


About RIEDEL Fascination

I cherish animals, plants, reading, music and free spirituality. I welcome you for articles, literary activities, and interaction! Surrounding ourselves with good people is a delight. I occasionally review at The Book Depository.
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6 Responses to Definition Of The Broad “Cozy Genre”.

  1. Great article, and I agree with your definition of cozy. I’ve also seen Agatha Christie labeled as cozies…to me they’re British mysteries or detective mystery, don’t have that “cozy” feel

    • Thank you, Erin! I figured if big readers took a look at my assessment, we could at least concur on the basics. I think Agatha’s writing is too elevated to be a “cozy” but that is the expanded part of my definition. At the cruder level, her plotting is much more complex than the “found a body” carbon copy and more gruesome. While I’m glad not to see violence or gore: I like a bolder, “standard mystery”. We are after all adults. I don’t want all of my stories to be amusing or watered-down. You are right, Erin: you sure can tell the difference when you read a standard mystery! Ones needs a break from the weak types, as much as I love reading about cats and have superior favourites.

  2. Anonymous says:

    While I would not consider the Poirot books as cozies, I probably would say that the Miss Marple books are. To me one key feature of a ‘cozy mystery’ is that the person who solves the mystery is not a professional detective (not a policeman nor a private detective).

    I do agree with you that these books are generally not suspenseful, though some of them try. Because of the growing number of poor quality self-published books in this sub-genre, I have almost given up reading them. Nowadays I seem to be reading mostly police procedurals (I guess that you would call these “standard”?).

    • Thanks for adding your input! This must be you, Terrilyn? I didn’t include Miss Marple because I haven’t read her yet. I imagine the excellent writing and complex plotting is still there, which would have me hesitate. Great addendum to “the reader’s definition” that plain people solve mysteries (or crimes). Have you found that “cozy mysteries” almost always have a civilian sleuth though?

      Yes, your current reading would be standard. What a noticeable difference when we switch, eh? Blunter, edgier, more dangerous, and dare I say more grown-up. I have many favourites among “cozies” as I shared – the better writers and creative plotters. However I worry about people who only read these and there are such people. I think they’re missing the grown-up edge that you & I notice and also true writers. Classics like Gabrielle Roy and Margaret Laurence (not mysteries at all but real modern, Canadian classics) show us what a professional author is. So important, right?

  3. Sue says:

    Off-topic here but only place I see to comment. About the My Kind of Mystery review: no idea how Mornings on Horseback got there. ?!?!? Definitely not a mystery-it’s non-fiction about Theodore Roosevelt. Only think I can think is that the linky had already populated with that info and I hit return without realizing. Why do I keep fouling up my review postings on your site???? Will go slower and be more careful in future. :)

    • Hi Sue! I meant the review page but comments are good anyplace. Nice when people see my articles! Horseback suits “animals” in “Gentle Spectrums”. There’s no admonishment: merely wondering what to correct. :) As many times as you ever need something fixed, just ask. It feels frustrating if we’re unable to correct our own details. Please know I never mind doing it.

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