What Exactly is a Cozy Mystery?

From Publishers Weekly:

An amateur sleuth, an unsuspecting victim, a quirky supporting cast, and trail of clues and red herrings are the main ingredients of a cozy mystery. The term “cozy” was coined in the late 20th century, and in the late 1990s, when I was in high school, I was reading and loving cozies before I knew that was what they were called. I fell in love with the small town stories in which an average person, like me, could solve a crime and bring justice to a family after a murder. The cozy lesson is an average person can make a difference. It doesn’t matter if the protagonist is a knitter, a librarian, or a gardener—that person can solve a murder. The hero archetype of the average person rising to the challenge in extraordinary circumstances has been a theme in literature since ancient times. Think David and Goliath or The Hunger Games. It comes as no surprise that the theme remains popular.

The theme of the common man in extreme circumstances continues into the villain of cozy. Rarely is the culprit an evil person. Instead, he or she is a person pushed to his or her limits, a person who believes that his or her only escape from the current circumstances is to take another life. It’s a bad choice, of course. It is the wrong choice, in fact. The protagonist’s quest for justice proves how bad and wrong that choice is. A cozy—and all mystery—is an examination of what will drive a person to the brink where murder could possibly seem like a good idea.

But there is more to a cozy than the average person taking on a big challenge. In a cozy, it is not that person alone who fights the battle for justice. Many times, the protagonist is surrounded by a group of family and friends, who are cheering her on to solve the crime. Those supporting characters both help and hinder the protagonist, and it is a story about a community banding together for what is right. Cozy readers feel like they are on that team along with the main character and her friends.

And then there is the idea of fair play in a cozy. The clues and red herrings are put out there for the readers to digest and decipher as they read the story. Mystery readers are smart people: they are puzzle solvers and inquisitive, and they like their sleuths to be the same. In other subgenres of mystery and suspense, the reader might already know who the killer is from the very beginning. In a cozy, the reader has the opportunity to solve the murder right along with the main character. As such, the readers believe they can solve the crime, too. The very best cozies are the ones in which the reader thinks she has solved the crime, finds out that she is wrong at the end of the book, but feels satisfied with the just conclusion because it is a surprise, but more importantly because the plot makes sense.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG hadn’t checked on the mystery categories on Amazon lately. When he did, he discovered more than one cozy mystery listing.

Cozy Mystery

Cozy Culinary Mystery

Cozy Animal Mystery

Cozy Crafts & Hobbies Mystery

Cozy mystery readers seem to enjoy titles with a pun.


Another One Bites the Crust by H.Y. Hanna

Gone Gull by Donna Andrews

A Crime of Passion Fruit by Ellie Alexander

Yews with Caution by Kate Collins


A Room with a Brew by Joyce Tremel

13 thoughts on “What Exactly is a Cozy Mystery?”

  1. I love cozy mysteries! As long as they aren’t food-based, at least. I can’t cook, and I’m not any kind of foodie, so I don’t catch the point, puns, or cooking details of those books.

    Donna Andrews writes fun mysteries! And I did read “A Room with a Brew” and enjoyed it – even though I can’t stand beer. 😉

      • I am a cabinetmaker/restorer, so you got me to check out elise hyatt, and omg the cover! Id have overlooked the weird looking woman in a wedding dress as a bad cartoon. but she’s using a belt sander on an antique?
        lol, you said if you know anything about refinishing…

        • Your description made me go and look at the cover (it turned out to be the kindle version of “A Fatal Stain”) and it was difficult to disagree with your reaction.

          I guess we can blame the cover artist for the inappropriate working clothes but the belt sander does figure in an early scene. Still this does not mean that the author doesn’t know her stuff as the heroine describes her use of the sander as “criminally insane” (and she did think she was dealing with badly finished cheap pine and not an antique).

          And just to show that bad covers can still sell books, it got me to read the sample and this got me to buy the book.

          • Cartoon covers are what the readers expect for cozies.

            I interviewed Amanda M. Lee (not the knitting cozies, the other ones) awhile back and she said even though she wasn’t a fan of the style it’s what definitely sells.

          • I’ll agree that the cover could turn away someone knowledgeable – I would probably have skipped it myself if 1) I hadn’t already read the earlier ones, and 2) knew that the writer was actually Sarah Hoyt. On the other hand… for the knowledgeable, it kind of pulls you in with a “WTF?!?” reaction, which could get you to give the sample a try (or borrow it on KU). Insert other-hand-waggle here.

            (The wedding dress makes sense too, once you get into it.)

            I think I’ve gotten the power sanders out maybe once in the last six months myself. I mostly new build, and believe in “joint AND glue AND screw” – you have to be intentionally destructive and willing to invest quite a bit of work to take my pieces apart! It is so much easier to get the grain cleared out again after hand sanding to exact fit.

            • A couple of years ago I built three small oak tables to go at the ends of our sofas and totally screwed up the finish on the tops. It was actually quite satisfying to take out the belt sander and bring the tops back down to bare wood before starting again. Not advised on anything but a new build!

  2. Cozy mystery readers seem to enjoy titles with a pun.

    Now. Because Berkley redefined the cozy mystery to what PW describes in the article. They also had other requirements for their cozy authors: a pet (preferably a cat) and recipes in the back (even if the MC didn’t like to cook). And it was extra good if it was funny.

    Now, I’m not saying these kinds of cozy mysteries aren’t fun to read. But Agatha Christie’s books, the classic cozies, never would have been accepted in the category today.

    As an author who is in the Cozy Crafts & Hobbies category, I really wish Amazon would also create a Traditional Mystery category to encompass the books without punny titles or recipes.

    • Yes, when I think of cozies I think of Agatha Christie. I’m not interested in whether the detective is some sort of otaku, nor do I care if we have hobbies in common. I do like for the detective to be able to draw from a variety of experiences: “I saw a patient with this exact condition when I was a nurse in WWII … I saw something suspicious while I was flying my biplane to meet a friend for lunch.”

      And to Karen’s point below, the detective should have a yen to visit interesting places, which is where one could weave in interesting facts. Perhaps Berkeley thought the “detective with hobbies” served the “convey interesting facts” role, but knitting lacks the glamour of anything you might learn if there’s a murder on a train that runs from Paris to Istanbul.

      I just want the detective to have a fascinating puzzle, with a generous portion of wit and verve. I do not know what Berkley was going for in their redefinition of the cozy, but their preference doesn’t move me as a reader.

  3. I enjoy the occasional cozy.

    But you have to wonder at the sort of charming small town in America which has enough murders to support a cozy series.

      • Moose County, the home of the Cat Who… books, always struck me as even worse, particularly given that every time someone was killed, there was always this great wringing of hands that a murder could possibly have happened in their wholesome community. They were either all in on it or there was brainwashing going on : )

Comments are closed.