My next book, The St. Nicholas Murders, is what is known as a “cozy mystery.” That brings to mind sitting in front of a warm fire, sipping tea and uttering, “My, my,” as one reads the yellowing pages of a hardbound book. As with many generalities, there is an element of truth in that. One website seems to say that (click here) and I find much of the description to be right. However, I must clarify what my book is and what it is not. If you checked the website, she says that the amateur sleuth is normally a woman. Well, Father Robert Bruce is very manly. Unlike Father Brown, he is tall, handsome and fit. I will defer to the “usually” and say that Father Robert is very unusual. He is an amateur who is drawn into the case and becomes a friend of the local chief of police, the Chief. I think they are very likeable, unlike my favorite P.I. Morg, who is the protagonist in two of my books and often lashes out at those who get in her way. Still, I think she’s lovable, too. Anyway, there is no graphic sex or violence. The language shouldn’t be offensive, unless one is a total prude. I mean, if bitch or bastard singes your ears, don’t read any of my books. Hopefully, that will not be the case for most cozy mystery readers. But enough about my latest book, let’s talk about what makes a cozy mystery such an oxymoron.
Important Update: I went to a writers’ conference on Kauai this month. I met with an agent who is looking at The St. Nicholas Murders, so I will not self-publish until I hear from her. Although I do hope she will take me on as a client, I am too old to count on it. More as soon as I know what will be the fate of my latest book, but it will not be by Christmas.
Most cozy mysteries are about murder. Merriam-Webster defines cozy as “providing contentment or comfort.” How can murder be linked with cozy? Perhaps it is just because there’s no blood and guts spewing in any of the scenes, but still has all the drama. Still, it is odd. Since I am not a fan of gory books, movies and TV shows, I feel much the same about sanitized crime, but it doesn’t explain why I love a good murder mystery. Is it because murder is the ultimate violation of another person and we wish to see the perpetrator brought to justice? For me, part of it is my love of solving puzzles, but why isn’t the puzzle about robbery or embezzlement? True, there are mysteries about those crimes, but ones about murder far outnumber all of them combined. Perhaps there is something in the human psyche that is drawn to the macabre. After all, people slow and gawk when there’s an accident on the freeway. And look at the popularity of Halloween. There’s also the thrill of fear, evidenced by the popularity of roller coasters and scary movies. Is the fear of death and cheating it part of this fascination? And might reading about a murder be a safe way to get that thrill? I’ll let you decide.
I do find it interesting that the murder mystery is a particularly English art form, the people known for polite restraint. I remember reading about an accident in the Tube. People started panicking and cramming the exits. One gentleman said, “Here, here! We’re English!” Everyone queued up and orderly got off the train without injury. While the yobs rioting at football (soccer) games have been far more common in the last few decades, the murder rate in the British Isles is far less than in America, about one fourth. Yet the British have long had an obsession with murder. Is this a paradox? While, with the exception of Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin, the murder-solving detective was the invention of the Brits while the “hard-boiled” detective was an American innovation. Sherlock Holmes solved crime by observation and logic rather than with fists and guns. Poirot only uses a gun once, in the last episode when he dies. It was published in 1975, just a few months before Agatha Christie’s own death and may reflect her failing health. The idea of a little old lady solving crimes in her little village also came from the English. Miss Marple far predated Jessica Fletcher. As an aside, I do wonder how her village could continue to exist with so many people being murdered, but that’s a problem with a cozy mystery series. The English have long enjoyed reading about a good murder, both fictional and non-fictional. Jack the Ripper was great for newspaper sales. For the English person who reads of murder, it might be a way to break out from conventions of polite society without doing any harm.
Now that you have explored why you read cozy murder mysteries, indulge in one. Make a Christmas present for yourself or someone you know of The St. Nicholas Murders. It will be out by Christmas and would be a killer gift.