My latest book, The St. Nicholas Murders, is now available on Amazon. It’s a bit of murder in the Foothills for Christmas. The book is a cozy mystery, meaning there is no foul language, explicit sex or graphic violence. Something to read in your rocker with a nice fire in the fireplace on a cold night. Cozy, right? It starts just before the Kirkin’ of the Tartan service at Father Robert Bruce’s church, St. Nicholas of Myra Episcopal Church in Buggy Springs, a small town in the Sierra Nevada Foothills. It ends on Christmas Day. I filled it with characters and places inspired by living in a small town in the Sierra Nevada Foothills for 19 years. It is fiction, but fiction should come from real life. For a sampling of the book, click here. If you like what you read here, click on the Amazon link on the sidebar. If you don’t like what you read, then don’t click. It’s your choice, but I hope that you will give Father Robert a chance.
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.
Let me state that, although I’m not really a “cat person,” I do get along rather well with those domesticated tigers. In fact, when we saved one from certain death at our business, it adopted me. Yonke Gato (Junk Cat) would crawl up my arm and go to sleep across my shoulders as I did paperwork at my desk. He would also bite and claw about anyone else. Maybe it wasn’t so much love, but mutual respect and honesty about how we felt about each other that formed our relationship. I didn’t pretend to love cats and he didn’t pretend to love people.
I did own a cat for several years. Her mother abandoned her and her siblings in our garage in Lake Arrowhead, CA. We named her Fosbury after Dick Fosbury, developer of the Fosbury Flop. Like Dick, she was a high jumper, even though she was the runt. All of her litter mates died (sorry cat lovers, but it’s the truth). She became the proverbial “Cat from Hell.” She would rub up against your leg, but when you reached down to pet her, she would grab your hand with her front claws and bite it. Hard. She also would leave us “gifts” on the front doormat. Heads of gophers, skinned grey squirrels, blue jay feathers and body parts. They made for pleasant surprises when you opened the front door. When we moved overseas, a couple we knew offered to take her and we gladly accepted. They were afraid, however, that their big tom might pick on her. Vain fear. She tormented him so badly that he kept throwing up when he ate. They finally gave her a private room in the house so tom could keep his dinner down. Amazingly, the couple still corresponded with us and sent occasional photos as Fosbury morphed in Jabba the Hutt.
Maybe that’s why I found it interesting that when author Alan Beechey recently gave a talk on mystery writing at the Unicorn Writers’ Conference in Portland, Connecticut, he cited the first rule of writing a mystery as being “Never kill a cat.” It gave me pause. No, not paws, pause. He said that it wasn’t good to kill a dog in your book and that it was rarely good to kill a child, but you should never kill a cat in your story. It’s better to kill off an innocent child than a cat? Why is it that cat lovers make them sacrosanct?
In ancient Egypt, cats held a special place. They were near and dear to the goddess Bast. In fact, killing a cat got you the death penalty. That, I must say, is a fate even worse than having your book be a flop because you have a killer knock off kitty in your mystery. However, it just goes to show you that love of felines is a long-standing tradition. It seems that mystery readers walk like an Egyptian, at least in their pet preferences.
Being a dog lover, I don’t really understand the puss aficionados. Dogs will mourn their masters (or mistresses), even loyally tending their graves. (click here). Cats are more inclined to view late owners as a source of protein. (click here) This is not to disparage Tabby. If anything, it makes the feline more pragmatic than the canine. After all, will starving yourself help bring back a loved one? You just want to make sure kitty knows you’re taking a catnap rather than having a coronary.
Back to the first rule of mystery writing, perhaps it has to do with many mystery readers being cat owners. I’ve never seen the pet demographics on whodunit readers, but it could be. Perhaps many mystery readers are ancient Egyptians with long life spans. That sounds like the basis for a new series to rival Twilight. Whatever the case, I am wise enough to heed the warning. I can assure any potential readers of my books that no cats will be killed in any of them. In fact, no cats will be harmed in the making of them or in their plots. I pledge that I will respect the rights of all cats. So if you’re a cat lover, you can indulge in reading my books without any guilt. Sort of like having a Diet Coke that tastes like a hot fudge sundae. Enjoy.
I consider myself a storyteller, an anecdotist, a raconteur. If you are looking for great literature, I recommend your local library for Dickens, Twain and Hemingway, but not Faulkner. A page is just too long for one sentence. However, if you’re looking for a good yarn with unexpected twists and turns, feel free to browse here.
If you stumbled here for the first time, this is what you can expect:
- A ration of ramblings about what has been and what shall be
- A morsel of mysterious hints of things to come
- A tantalizing taste of books written
- A mouthful of myriad writings and musings
Feel free to sample a few items from my buffet.