It might surprise you to learn that I had no clue what a cozy mystery was, even though I had been working on films and television dramas for some 20 years. In fact, it wasn't until I was on the set of an Agatha Christie series and had started writing books myself, that I came to learn that the books and TV programmes I had devoured all my life were considered to be 'cozy mysteries'. How is that possible you might ask? Well, the thing is, though I was and still am one of those people who love hanging around libraries and book shops, I had never seen a section entitled 'cozy mysteries' and even today, I've not come across a single label that even mentions the word 'cozy' or 'cosy' (the preferred British and Australian spelling). I even asked for cozy mystery books in some of the bigger book shops and chains and was met with a confused face, yet ask for the sci-fi, romance, or gardening section and you have no problem at all being guided to rows and rows of books to choose from. This is pretty surprising when you come to realise that the second biggest selling genre on Amazon - romance being the number one most popular genre- is cozy mystery. I am so jealous of readers in the US who post pictures of their cozy book hauls from book shops and even from thrift stores. It just doesn't seem to be a thing here in the UK (FYI, I'm planning to change all that with the first National Cozy Mystery Book Day in September, but I'm really going to need your help with this!). I am longing for the day when I can walk right up to the cozy mystery section of Waterstones, WHSmiths, Foyles, or Blackwells and have a range of books to choose from - including my own!
Yet the genre is hugely popular in Britain, and when these kinds of books do appear, they are simply stacked on the shelf alongside 'hardboiled' crime and thriller books. And even then, you will most likely only find the books of Agatha Christie. It is a sad fact of life here in Britain (Britain is made up of the countries England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), that the cozy mystery is just not a genre that people know the name of, even though every other television show could in fact be considered a cozy; Poirot, Miss Marple, Death in Paradise, Rosemary and Thyme, Shakespeare and Hathaway, Father Brown, Cadfael, Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, Jonathan Creek, Midsomer Murders...you get the picture!
That makes it even more ironic that British Cozies are a bit of a thing, loved by Anglophiles the world over, and often not written by British authors. But there are plenty of great books and authors to choose from: Rhys Bowen, Carola Dunn, Nancy Atherton, Robin Stevens for a start.
What is a Cozy Mystery?
A cozy (or cosy) mystery is just that - COZY. It makes you feel warm and snug. It is a sub-genre of crime fiction, but without the explicit sex and violence, and the person doing the investigating or solving the mystery is generally an amateur sleuth rather than a police officer. It usually features quirky characters, sometimes a bit of humour, but is generally light-hearted and good always wins in the end and just desserts are served once the mystery is solved.
Cozy mysteries are the kind of book that you don't get embarrassed about when your child or granny finds them and starts to read out loud. The focus is on the atmosphere rather than the violence or murder itself. The murder tends to happen 'off stage' as it were.
What is a British Cozy Mystery?
A British cozy mystery to me, is a cozy mystery that takes place in Britain or at a stretch has British characters as the lead characters. Though some people might argue that a British cozy mystery could be defined as a cozy mystery written by a British author, but I'm not sure that I strictly agree with that. My Dead on Doughnuts story has British characters and is partly set in Oxford, but the majority of the book is set on a fictional ski resort in Austria, with other European characters taking lead roles. Even though I'm a Brit, I'm not sure that I would consider this a British cozy mystery. Compared to 'Baa'd to the Bone' which is set on a farm near Swansea, Wales, and is definitely a British cozy mystery.
To me, the magic of the British cozy mystery is that it evokes the senses - the smell of an English rose in a fabulous Downton Abbey style manor house garden, the taste of bangers and mash in some backstreet London cafe, the sound of the River Thames flowing past the chiming Big Ben, or the look of the colourful beach huts and seagulls eating from fish and chip wrappers at the seaside in Brighton. It should make you nostalgic for everything British. I've lived all over the world and it was only when I started to live and make friends in other cultures that I started to really understand this whole Anglophile thing. As an ex-pat there were things that I came to miss about Britain (salad cream, Cheddar cheese, tea with milk, Branston pickle, Baked Beans on toast, British sarcasm) and these are what really bring a British cozy mystery to life. Brits are strange creatures (myself included) and you can usually spot them a mile off when you see them abroad. I used to live in the West Indies and I knew a Brit from far away, because they were usually lobster pink from over exposing themself to the sunshine, or had their shirt tucked into their shorts, or wore socks with their sandals. They generally looked grumpy and uptight, but at the end of their holiday they blended in a little more with their surroundings, and then looked miserable again as they realised it was time to return home. I'm stereotyping here, but you get the gist. Probably why I loved that first episode of Death in Paradise so much as it was something I could definitely relate to!
British cozies include things like references to the weather, and expressions or words that have resulted from an island nation shaped by invaders and their languages over hundreds of years. As I say, it is about the atmosphere that the author creates - this is what makes a British cozy mystery for me.
In many ways Death in Paradise has all the feels of a true British cozy mystery because of the strong main character Richard Pool and references to British quirks, as well as being set on a fictional island with historical connections to Britain. Apart from which, the Brits generally have a love/hate relationship with anything French, so we get these vibes even more so with Death in Paradise because we see the Britishness presented against a contrasting backdrop. Plus tea references, sarcasm, and being a misery or grump. Death in Paradise doesn't really meet the cozy criteria since it is based on a police department, but it certainly has all the cozy feels!
What makes a story a 'cozy' or 'British cozy' for you? Do you have any favourite settings - pub, manor house, tea room? Do you have any favourite authors of British cozies? I'd love to know what you think in the comments section below. Don't forget that you can get all of my books BEFORE I publish them on Amazon, for $1 a month by becoming a patron.