Amanda Flower is a bestselling and Agatha Award-winning mystery author. Her latest mystery, the first in a series, is Flowers and Foul Play: A Magic Garden Mystery, which follows Fiona Knox, who leaves her life in Nashville for Scotland, where her late godfather, Ian MacCallister, has left her his cottage, Duncreigan, near Aberdeen. There, she stumbles across the dead body of Ian’s attorney, Alastair Croft. As Fiona becomes acquainted with the local residents, she begins identifying others who may have held a grudge against the lawyer. Flower discusses why she likes writing cozy mysteries, and why they have such lasting appeal.
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.
Protagonist and reader are on the journey together, so a relationship is formed between them. This is an innate kinship that is the goal of all fiction. When I teach fiction writing or meet one-on-one with aspiring writers as the author-in-residence at my library, I tell these writers this is such an important aspect of writing fiction. If nothing else, a writer must make the readers care. If the readers don’t care about at least one of the characters in the story, there is no reason for them to continue to read, but if the readers care, they won’t be able to put the book down.
When I was in college, I started writing my first novel; it was a cozy. I didn’t know that was name of my genre. I only knew that I loved to read and write mysteries with a reluctant sleuth who was relatable enough to be my best friend, a zany cast of characters backing her up, and a killer who isn’t an evil person, just a person who made a gigantic mistake when he or she decides that the only answer is murder. With over 20 published cozies to my name in a myriad of locations and cultures, I don’t tire of the genre that I first fell in love with as a teen.
It seems to me that I’m not the only one who feels this way. It is not uncommon for readers to tell me that they miss a sleuth I am no longer writing because they connected with that particular main character in a very real way. Cozy fans love their genre and embrace both the characters in the books and the authors of those books as dear friends.
In last several years, publishers have recognized that this genre has an audience that is so dedicated that the fans will campaign fervently for canceled series, begging for them to be brought back. Kensington, Crooked Lane Books, and Sourcebooks have been at the forefront of bringing these series back and acquiring new ones, both from well-known authors and fresh new voices.
The heart of why readers love cozies is they know what they are getting. They know they will have a sleuth who is pulled into the crime because that sleuth cares about other people, they know that the sleuth’s friends and family will help and hinder the investigation, they know that humor will abound, and they know that in the end, through all the twists and turns, the killer will be caught.
In a cozy, there is a happily ever after and justice is served. That does not always happen in the real world. A cozy is a brief escape from the troubles of the real world, and I, for one, plan to take that escape over and over again.