I've brought in some of the best cozy authors out there to share their secrets and their insights about the booming genre of Cozy Mysteries.
By Kathleen Kaska
I define a “cozy” as a mystery that makes me feel good; the characters make me laugh and put me in a good mood; and the story is lighthearted and humorous (think: Carl Hiaasen, Janet Evanovich, Elizabeth Peters, Spencer Quinn, or Martha Grimes’s Emma Graham mysteries).
What a cozy mystery does not do is scare the pants off me, keep me awake at night, or give me nightmares. I enjoy reading a frightening story every once in a while, but only when I know what to expect. My expectations for a cozy: no graphic violence, explicit sex, or lots of profanity. I want to enjoy the story and be entertained. The main character must be likeable and one I can identify with on some level.
Here is a general definition for a cozy mystery: the investigator is an amateur, usually a woman. She has no official authority to investigate crimes, especially murder. But in order to view the scene of the crime, interview suspects, and nose around, she must have a connection with someone who does have such authority, like a spouse, friend, or relative who is a cop, a private investigator, a criminologist, or a forensic scientist.
In Martha Grimes’s Emma Graham mysteries, Emma is a twelve-year-old girl, whose best friend is the sheriff. Even though Bernie and Chet are private investigators in Spencer Quinn’s series, I consider the books cozies because the stories are told by Chet, a dog. And Carl Hiaasen’s characters are so quirky, “authority” is merely a foreign word. They take matters into their own hands as if they have a god-given right to so do. I think that must have something to do with them being from Florida.
I would love to hear your thoughts of what makes a cozy mystery, as well as your favorites. I’m always looking to add new authors to my reading list.
Excerpt from Run Dog Run:
She’d been foolish and gone off alone, now she might have to pay the ultimate price…
The rocks along the bottom of the creek bed seemed to disappear. Kate felt the ropy, gnarl of tree roots instead.
The cedar break. She was approaching the road and soon the water would pass through the culvert. She knew that she would not make it through the narrow tunnel alive. Her lungs screamed for air. With one final attempt, she grabbed hold of a long cedar root growing along the side of the creek bank and hung on. Miraculously, it held. She wedged her foot under the tangled growth and anchored herself against the current. Inching her way upward, she thrust her head above water and gulped for air. But debris in the current slapped her in the face, and leaves and twigs filled her mouth, choking her. Dizziness overcame her ability to think—exhaustion prevented her from pulling herself higher.
She must not give in. Fighting unconsciousness, Kate inched her way up a little farther, and at last was able to take a clear breath. Her right arm hung loosely by her side, the back of the shaft had broken off in the tumble through the current, but the arrow was lodged in her arm. Numb from cold water and exhaustion, she lay on the bank as the water swept over her, and then, as quickly as it had arrived, the flow subsided and the current slowed. If she could hang on a few moments longer, survival looked promising. As thoughts of hope entered her mind, Kate feared that her pursuer might not have given up the chase. Perfect, Kate Caraway, just perfect. You screwed up again, she chided herself as the lights went out.
After five years in Africa, researching the decline of elephant populations, Kate Caraway’s project comes to a screeching halt when she shoots a poacher and is forced to leave the country. Animal rights activist Kate Caraway travels to a friend’s ranch in Texas for a much-needed rest. But before she has a chance to unpack, her friend’s daughter pleads for Kate’s assistance. The young woman has become entangled in the ugly world of greyhound abuse and believes Kate is the only one with the experience and tenacity to expose the crime and find out who is responsible. On the case for only a few hours, Kate discovers a body, complicating the investigation by adding murder to the puzzle. Now, she’s in a race against time to find the killer before she becomes the next victim.
Kathleen Kaska is a writer of mysteries, nonfiction, travel articles, and stage plays. When she is not writing, she spends much of her time with her husband traveling the back roads and byways around the country, looking for new venues for her mysteries and bird watching along the Texas coast and beyond.
It was her passion for birds that led to the publication The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story (University Press of Florida). Kathleen Kaska is the author the Classic Triviography Mystery Series, which includes The Alfred Hitchcock Triviography and Quiz Book, The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book, and The Agatha Christie Triviography and Quiz Book.
Kathleen also writes the award-winning Sydney Lockhart mystery series set in the 1950s. Her first two mysteries, Murder at the Arlington and Murder at the Luther, were selected as bonus-books for the Pulpwood Queen Book Group, the largest book group in the country. Her latest Sydney Lockhart mystery, set in Austin, Texas, is Murder at the Driskill.
Run Dog Run, is Kathleen’s her first mystery in the new Kate Caraway animal rights series.
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