Friday, March 04, 2011

Friday Fiction: "Cozy Mysteries"

--by Hanje Richards
I used to call this type of mystery “Mystery Light,” and I sometimes still do, but I recently learned that they are more universally known as "Cozy Mysteries."

"Cozy Mysteries" are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously. The term was first coined in the late 20th century when various writers produced work in an attempt to re-create the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.

The heroes of such stories are usually amateur detectives who often have a college degree and use their life experiences as a tool for solving crimes. Often they have a spouse, lover, friend or family member working for the police force, who can therefore provide them with important information about a case to which they would otherwise not have access.

The authorities usually dismiss these detectives as little more than nosy gossips and barely register their presence. However, this makes it easy for the detective to eavesdrop on their conversations at the scene of the crime and thus gather clues.

There is usually an array of eccentric supporting characters, who provide light relief and are generally very likeable.

"Cozy Mysteries" are booming, and there is considerable cross-pollination with other genres of writing such as writing about hobbies, pets, or cooking. Culinary mysteries are a type of "Cozy Mystery" focusing on the world of cooking, chefing, or catering -- and usually including recipes. Associated with culinary mysteries are coffee house, tea house, wine country, and herbalist mysteries.

Antiquing, interior decorating, or fashion may also be featured. There are also animal mysteries; quilting, knitting, beading and other hobby mysteries; holiday-themed mysteries; vacation mysteries; real estate mysteries; matchmaker mysteries; psychic and other paranormal mysteries; and combinations of all of these.

Books by these authors are available at the Copper Queen Library and through our interlibrary loan services.

Susan Wittig Albert (born 1940) is a mystery writer from Vermilion County, IL. She currently resides in Bertram, TX, near Austin, with her husband, Bill Albert. She is the author of the China Bayles herbal mysteries, a popular and acclaimed series centering around the title character's deductive reasoning and knowledge as an herbalist and ex-lawyer, who solves murders with her best friend, Ruby Wilcox, owner of a New Age shop. "China Bayles ... is a former corporate lawyer who grew tired of the rat race and left it behind in Houston. She has moved to the Texas hill country... Despite the slower pace of life in Pecan Springs, China still manages to run across her share of murders."

Lilian Jackson Braun (born 1913) is an American writer well-known for her light-hearted series of "The Cat Who..." mystery novels. The "Cat Who" books center around the life of former newspaper reporter James Qwilleran and his two Siamese cats, KoKo and Yum Yum, in the fictitious small town of Pickax, located in Moose County "400 miles north of everywhere." Although never formally stated in her books, the towns, counties, and lifestyles described in the series are generally accepted to be modeled after Bad Axe, MI (located 108 miles north of Detroit in the "Michigan Thumb") where Braun resided with her husband for many years until the mid-1980s.

Diane Mott Davidson (born 1949) is an American author of mystery novels that use the theme of food. Several recipes are included in each book, and each novel title is a play on a food or drink word. Mott Davidson studied political science at Wellesley College and lived across the hall from Hillary Clinton. In a few of her novels (particularly, The Cereal Murders), she references a prestigious eastern women's college that her sleuth, Goldy Schulz, attended before transferring to a Colorado state university. In real life, Mott Davidson transferred from Wellesley and eventually graduated from Stanford University.

The main character in Mott Davidson's novels is Goldy Schulz, a small town caterer who also solves murder mysteries in her spare time. At the start of the series, Goldy is a recently divorced mother with a young son, trying to make a living as a caterer in the fictional town of Aspen Meadows, CO. As the series progresses, new characters are introduced that change Goldy's professional and personal life. It has been noted that Aspen Meadows, CO, closely resembles a real Colorado town, Evergreen. Evergreen is where Mott Davidson currently resides with her family.

Janet Evanovich (born Janet Schneider, April 22, 1943, in South River, NJ) is an American writer. She began her career writing short contemporary romance novels under the pen name Steffie Hall but gained fame authoring a series of contemporary mysteries featuring Stephanie Plum, a lingerie buyer from Trenton, NJ, who becomes a bounty hunter to make ends meet after losing her job.

Earlene Fowler, raised in La Puente, CA, is the author of a number of mystery novels set in the fictional city of San Celina, CA. She has written 12 books in the Benni Harper series of mysteries. The lead character, Benni Harper, is curator of a folk art museum, and quilting figures prominently in many of the storylines. Each book in the series has been given the name of a traditional quilt block pattern. Recurring characters include Police Chief Gabe Ortiz, Benni's friend Elvia Aragon, Grandma Dove, Aunt Garnet, and cousin Emory.

Lisa Lutz is the American author of a series of novels about a family of private investigators, the Spellmans. During the 1990s, she had many low-paying jobs, including work as a private investigator. In 2004, she started work in California on her first novel, The Spellman Files, which she finished holed up in New York while it was snowing. She returned to the west coast to write her second novel and now lives in San Francisco. Her series of novels is about the Spellmans, a family of private investigators who, while very close knit, are also intensely suspicious and spend much time investigating each other. The Spellman Files becomes suspenseful when 14-year-old Rae Spellman is kidnapped.

Alexander "Sandy" McCall Smith (born in 1948) is a Rhodesian-born Scottish writer and Emeritus Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh. He is most widely known as the creator of the The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.
Sharyn McCrumb (born Sharyn Elaine Arwood February 26, 1948, in Wilmington, NC) is an American writer whose books celebrate the history and folklore of Appalachia. Educated at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Virginia Tech, she has also taught Appalachian studies. She is married to David McCrumb, a corporate environmental director, and has two children, Laura and Spencer.