HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Okay, I’m just gonna step back and let LeslieBudewitz talk. She’s hilarious, brilliant, and a dear pal. She’s the immediate past president of Sisters in Crime—and did an absolutely stellar job. She's a nationally best-selling author who lives in the wilds of Montana, and she’s fearless.
As she proves in this essay.
TO COZY, OR NOT TO COZY?
Ah, the poor cozy. In some circles—and I know you’ll be shocked—it’s fashionable to denigrate the cozy. To dismiss the amateur sleuth as a busy-body who should stick to running her book shop, her catering business, or her spice shop, and leave the down-and-dirty world of investigating murder to the cynical and jaded private investigator or his cousin, the cynical and jaded police detective.
I’m not buying it.
There is a reason we love the amateur sleuths of cozy world, and I’ve got a theory.
It’s not because we love the food they cook or the sweaters they knit. Well, not just because of the food and sweaters.
I’m not going to define the cozy—I could, but that would be another post! Suffice to say, as the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, we know it when we see it.
But here’s the key, for me. Whether the cozy is set in a small town or a community within a larger city, in the past or the present, whether the amateur sleuth is single or widowed, young or old, whether we like the victim or think she needed killing, the murder is a shock that disrupts the norm. It must be solved—and this is key—to restore a sense of order. Of course, there’s one in every book, so the reader isn’t shocked, but the residents are. They share an underlying belief is that people are basically good, and natural order can be restored.
Some writers don’t like the term cozy. The great Carolyn Hart, whom I adore, says what’s more uncomfortable than murder in a small town where everyone is affected? I live in a small town, and she’s right. I never want to forget that murder is not just a means to tell a story—it’s real, and it hurts everyone.
But I like the term, because ultimately any book with an amateur sleuth is about community. Our intrepid sleuth steps away from her busy life to investigate because it’s necessary. The job of the professional investigators is to restore external order by making an arrest and bringing the killer into the justice system. But the job of the amateur sleuth is to restore internal order within the community. To restore the social order.
How does she do that? She’s part of the community—sometimes new to it, sometimes a local girl who returns home. Her occupation—running a coffeehouse or a pet-friendly hotel, catering, or midwifery—puts her at the heart of the community. She knows everyone. She understands the dynamics. She can see things the professionals can’t see and ask questions they can’t ask, because she knows what goes on. Often, her expertise gives her an advantage—because she knows the true value of the stolen rare book, beyond its price, she can understand the motivation to take it and identify the killer the police never suspected.
Ultimately, the cozy is about community. The characters and their relationships drive the plot, and the entire novel. And so I find the label “cozy” a positive choice. A hopeful choice.
As I often tell readers, cozies are the comfort food of the mystery world. And don’t we all crave a little mac and cheese now and then?
HANK: That’s such a great way of putting it. What do you think, Reds and lovely readers? Have you had the “cozy” battle, er, discussion with anyone? Who's your favorite cozy author?
In Seattle's Pike Place Market, Spice Shop owner Pepper Reece is savoring her business success, but soon finds her plans disrupted by a killer in the latest from the national bestselling author of Guilty as Cinnamon.
Pepper Reece's to-do list is longer than the shopping list for a five-course dinner, as she conjures up spice blends bursting with seasonal flavor, soothes nervous brides fretting over the gift registry, and crosses her fingers for a rave review from a sharp-tongued food critic. Add to the mix a welcome visit from her mother, Lena, and she's got the perfect recipe for a busy summer garnished with a dash of fun.
While browsing in the artists' stalls, Pepper and Lena drool over stunning pottery made by a Market newcomer. But when Lena recognizes the potter, Bonnie Clay, as an old friend who disappeared years ago, the afternoon turns sour. To Pepper's surprise, Bonnie seems intimately connected to her family's past. After Bonnie is murdered only days later, Pepper is determined to uncover the truth. But as Pepper roots out long-buried secrets, will she be digging her own grave?
Leslie Budewitz blends her passion for food, great mysteries, and the Northwest in two cozy mystery series. KILLING THYME, her third Spice Shop Mystery, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, is due on October 4. DEATH AL DENTE, first in the Food Lovers' Village Mysteries, set in Jewel Bay, Montana, won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. The immediate past president of Sisters in Crime, she lives and cooks in NW Montana.