I’ve heard it said that cozy mysteries are constraining. These criticisms are then followed by a clarion call for authors to “push the boundaries” of the cozy mystery envelope to bring the subgenre into the twenty-first century. But, the things that some might consider constraining are probably the main reasons I like writing cozy mysteries. In order to understand the complaints, you must first understand what cozy mysteries are.
So, what is a cozy mystery? Cozies are mysteries that almost always feature an amateur sleuth in a small community. They also do not have excessive violence, no explicit sex and no bad language. Let’s start with the amateur sleuth. Not being a member of law enforcement, I find using an amateur sleuth to be a major benefit. I don’t have to understand police procedures since an amateur isn’t bound by any of those rules. My amateur sleuth can (and usually does) make mistakes and gets into situations that can create interesting problems. Setting cozies in small communities helps to limit the pool of suspects, which is another positive. Readers can focus on the main characters in the story rather than several million possible entities that can be a factor in larger areas. No excessive violence is another plus in my opinion. Even though, I write murder mysteries, I will admit to being a bit squeamish when it comes to the reality of murder. I much rather gloss over the gory details and get straight down to finding clues and figuring out whodunit. No bad language is probably one of the most fun “constraints” in cozy mysteries. Rather than spewing out expletives commonly used by sailors, I view this as an opportunity for creativity. It forces me to look for creative ways for my characters to voice their frustrations. Some of my solutions are quite humorous. And, no sex? Well, there’s nothing in the cozy mystery rulebook that says cozy characters can’t have sex. We just can’t write the scene.
As a cozy mystery reader as well as a writer, I feel the guidelines help set reader expectations. Readers know what to expect when they pick up a cozy mystery, and as a reader I appreciate not being surprised with graphic descriptions of violent crime scenes that will give me nightmares and keep me awake all night. I’ve received letters from readers ranging from ten to well into their nineties. It definitely makes me happy to share my love of mysteries with people from different age groups.
When a last-minute opportunity arises to accompany her boss to an art auction in Atlanta, Lilly throws some money at the problem of where to board her toy poodle Aggie (short for Agatha Christie). Posh Pet Haven offers the most luxurious canine accommodations in all of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The place even provides pet cams so anxious owners can check in on their pampered pooches.
But when Lilly tries to take a peek at her poodle, she gets a terrible shock—she witnesses what she’s sure is a murder. She thinks the victim may be the wealthy co-owner of Pet Haven. The police follow her lead but find no body, no evidence of a crime, and no video record. Starting to feel like the dog owner who cried wolf, Lilly decides to go undercover to catch a killer who may be hiding in plain sight . . .