The term “cozy mystery” (or in our case “Cozy Mysteries”) appeared in the late 20th century after writers revived the mystery genre that first emerged during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction in the 1920s and 1930s. Back then, authors like Agatha Christie, Margaret Allingham, and Georgette Heyer offered a respite from the often harsh and brutal world that existed with stories that transported the reader to a place that was quiet and stable, where justice was served, often with a side of gossip and a cup of tea.
Similarly, cozy mysteries today offer a mini-vacation without ever having to leave the house—an escape from the stressful world we all live in. Most are quick reads, contain colorful characters, and are set in charming locations. Who wouldn’t want to take a trip to a destination such as a beautiful English seaside town and make friends with the wonderfully quirky people who inhabit it?
Notice the word “murder” hasn’t been mentioned yet. That’s because, while cozy mysteries often involve a murder or other crime, it’s the interaction of the friendly and sometimes-flawed characters as well as the detailed surroundings that engage the reader. Not to mention the clues, which are dropped regularly, but which might also be leading one off the trail, aka “red herrings.” Don’t worry though, figuring out a cozy mystery won’t add to the frustrations of your day! They are light, humorous, devoid of descriptive violence, profanity, and any mention of sexual situations. This makes them suitable for almost all ages and for reading anywhere.
Adding to the fun, the lively protagonist solving the crime is usually an amateur. This leads to some predictably hilarious moments as the amateur detective and the professionals bump into each other. The sleuth will often have a delightful pet or an interesting hobby, plus many social interactions with the community to keep themselves busy as they mull the clues, further drawing the reader into the pleasant details of their world. The reader and the protagonist go on a journey together, as they uncover the evidence and its meaning.
Cozy mysteries are set all over the world, giving readers a chance to immerse themselves in many different settings. They also take place at different points in time. Jacqueline Winspear is the author of the Maisie Dobbs English cozy mystery series while Charles Todd’s protagonist is a nurse in his Bess Crawford mystery series. Both series are set shortly after World War I. American Joanne Fluke has written a popular series, including recipes, about a small-town baker, Hannah Swenson, who solves murders in Lake Eden, Minnesota and Alexander McCall Smith has authored a 19-book series about the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency set in Botswana. Alison Golden sets her three cozy mystery series in England, Jersey—a Channel Island off the French coast, and New Orleans in the US.
While cozy mysteries fall within the genre of crime fiction, they are a sub-genre, one that emphasizes pleasant location, intimate community, humor, and lightheartedness over gruesome details. The stories end satisfyingly and the reader may close their book with the feeling that all is right with the world. The message that an ordinary person can bring about justice is uplifting.