Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why I Love Reading and Writing Cozy Mysteries

By Linda O. Johnston

Just because!

Okay, I’ll get a little more specific. Because of the characters--plucky, smart, determined and successful in what they do. They live their own fun and fictional lives, taking care of what’s important to them... while solving murders.

And because of the themes. They’re what make cozies cozy!

I’m sure you know, as a Jungle Red Writer or follower, that each cozy series has its own theme or background. Some are similar, but all are at least somewhat unique--based on who the protagonists are, where they live and, mostly, what drives them.

Some of the most popular themes involve crafts or hobbies such as sewing or other needlework, crocheting, scrapbooking, quilting, rubber stamping, or collecting things such as miniatures.

Some involve careers, such as gardening, cooking, giving advice, or owning a particular kind of shop or restaurant. Others involve sports. Some have paranormal themes. Some are historical.

Still others--among my favorites, of course--involve animals.

Why themes? Because they intrigue readers who are already interested in those areas, lure them into picking up the books, then reading them--and in addition to being entertaining, the contents may teach readers about aspects they might not otherwise know. Themes also allow readers who share those interests to identify even more than they otherwise might with the protagonists. A theme additionally provides a background that can be carried through the entire series, sometimes allowing introduction of ongoing characters who act as the protagonist’s friends and sounding boards--or some even become victims or suspects in the murders that inevitably occur. These are, after all, mysteries.

I’ve had fun with the theme of my first mystery series, the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. Kendra lives where I do, in the Hollywood Hills. She’s a lawyer by background, as am I. She’s owned by a tricolor Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Lexie--a good description of my older dog. So, yes, Kendra is an alter ego of mine--but fortunately neither I nor my friends trip over dead bodies, and the only murders I solve are on the pages of my books.

This month, the first book in my new Pet Rescue Mystery series debuted with BEAGLEMANIA. The new series, featuring Lauren Vancouver, is a spinoff from the Kendra series, although both can be read independently. Yes, both involve animals, but from different perspectives. Different protagonists, too, even though both are written in first person.

Kendra’s tone is lighter than Lauren’s, which carries through with the difference in themes. A pet-sitter has a lot of responsibilities, sure--especially one who’s also a lawyer. That’s Kendra. But the weight on Lauren’s shoulders is often heavier. She rescues animals.

Lauren is the director of HotRescues, a no-kill animal shelter. She was introduced in HOWL DEADLY, the eighth Kendra mystery, and she also appeared in FELINE FATALE, the ninth.

Her own stories start with BEAGLEMANIA. Saving animals is her passion, and she’ll be involved with some difficult situations such as being there when puppies and their parents are saved from a puppy mill. The second Pet Rescue Mystery, THE MORE THE TERRIER, starts off with Lauren learning that her mentor in pet rescue has turned into an animal hoarder, and Lauren has to help deal with that, too. The stories of course contain murders that must be solved.

The theme behind the Pet Rescue Mysteries may be a bit edgier than many cozy mystery themes. I admit to wanting to call attention to the plight of too many animals who need new homes. But the mysteries are written to entertain lovers of cozy mysteries, not to hit them over the head with a message.

Because these stories are fiction, I’m able to make sure that HotRescues is adequately funded without a lot of stress on Lauren’s part. Plus, no matter what else happens, the animals will come out of it all just fine. I’ve even adopted a slogan: In the Pet Rescue Mysteries, “no-kill” means pets, not people!

I hadn’t initially considered that Lauren, like Kendra, would become an alter ego of mine, but as I got into researching the Pet Rescue Mysteries, I got into pet rescue more, too. I currently volunteer at a no-kill shelter as a dog adoption counselor. I’ve gone on training exercises with the Small Animal Rescue Team of Los Angeles Animal Services. And, I’m the L.A. Pet Rescue Examiner for

In case you can’t tell, I’m delighted with the pet rescue theme of my new Pet Rescue Mystery series!

By the way, I’m so obsessed with animals that I also write romances about them--the Alpha Force miniseries for Harlequin Nocturne, about a covert military unit of shapeshifters!

Please come visit me at and at on Wednesdays. Friend me on Facebook. I’d love to hear what you think of pet rescue--and BEAGLEMANIA!

JRW: thanks for stopping by Linda! We love the cover on Beaglemania...Linda will be checking in today to answer comments and questions. And don't forget to enter our crime concept contest, social media style, on Friday!


  1. Welcome to Jungle Red, Linda! I think you're right. Cozies definitely enable us to live vicariously without getting too far out of our comfort zones. They seem to be made to order, too, for e-book format. And dog books are also such a hot category right now! Jungle Red's friend Paula Munier wrote a wonderful book FINDING FREDDIE about a very bad beagle... sounds like you guys should meet!

  2. Hi, Linda!

    I agree 100% with the ability of a well-written book to raise awareness - without, as you say, bashing the reader over the head with the message. In your case, I'm sure in addition to having dog lovers pick up the book and be exposed to a mystery, you also get mystery lovers picking up the books and learning about pet rescue!

    It's a subject near and dear to my heart - my family's pets have always been rescue animals. Our current residents are Marvin, a lab/husky mix from the Kennebec Animal Shelter, and cats Anastasia and Neko, two sisters we adopted from the Maine SCPA.

  3. Your books look great, Linda. Love the titles! They are hilarious! My husband got our cat at our local SPCA. Smokey is the best cat. We got our Australian Shepherd through the Aussie Rescue and Placement Hotline. We think Samwise was abused and HATED men at first(except for my husband and dad), but Sam is better now and has always been a loving dog. He is awesome around my kids and other Aussie.

  4. Melissa, did someone say Aussies?? We are on our second--both came via the lady who did adoptions for Aussies in CT. Poco was turned over by his family of seven years when their kid went to college and they wanted to travel. Can you imagine?? And our current resident Tonka, was supposed to be a show dog but his teeth came in wrong:).

    Linda, so glad you're here! hope you sell lots of books and help lots of animals along the way.

  5. Thanks, Hallie. I agree it would be great to meet Paula, especially since my husband's name is Fred!

  6. What a wonderful pet household you have, Julia! And yes, my intent is to encourage both mystery readers and people who love animals to pick up BEAGLEMANIA. In fact, at a bookstore signing last weekend, I was able to encourage people to come to talk to me and buy books who weren't mystery readers but liked rescue pets!

  7. Thanks, Melissa! I'm always interested in hearing how rescued pets react to people in their new, loving households, often in ways that suggest who might have mistreated them in the past.

  8. Some of the owner relinquishment stories I hear at the shelter where I volunteer are amazingly awful, Roberta. How great that your Aussies have such a wonderful family now! Thanks for your good wishes and for having me here as a guest blogger on Jungle Red!

  9. Just read Roberta's FaceBook post. Pet Rescue Mystery sounds interesting but I have to admit that it was the cover that really got my attention.

    Mother of one Aussie and one rescued slightly neurotic Labrador

  10. Welcome Linda!
    What a great subjuct for a new series!
    At Left Coast Crime I met a rescue greyhound who had become a service dog and saved his master's life. She used to fetch his wheel chair, bring him the phone etc. Now he's recovered and she is 13--a sweet gentle being who would have been shot without Greyhound Rescue.

  11. I love the cover, too, Jill--and it is a cute depiction of one of the first scenes in the story, a rescue of puppies from a storm drain! Lots of Aussies around today... They're amazing!

  12. Thanks, Rhys. What a moving story. Wish I'd been at Left Coast!

  13. Hi Linda! Thanks for dropping in at Jungle Red. Your books sound delightful--and I am a sucker for books about dogs (and cats.) My series characters have two rescued dogs and a rescued cat, and the upcoming book features a canine search and rescue unit. Great fun to research!

    And as we are owners of GSDs, I usually manage to work in a German shepherd or two somewhere in the course of a book . . .

    Looking forward to your books!

  14. You're right about the research, especially about animals, Deborah. It's got me hooked! So do books that include pets, especially rescues. Thanks for the welcome.