Blog Archives

Cozy Up To A Good Mystery – Agatha Christie Style

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

It’s a chilly Sunday afternoon and the rest of your family is parked in front of the large screen watching a football game. You, however, are nestled into your favorite comfy chair in front of a glowing fireplace, steaming cup of tea in hand, a soft throw over your knees. You sigh happily as you open another installment of your favorite “Miss Marple” mystery series. This singular pleasure was brought to you courtesy of Agatha Christie, one of the creators and the chief purveyor of the mystery genre known as the “Cozy.” Forty-one years after her death in 1976, Agatha Christie is still one of the top-selling authors of all time, with novel sales in the billions. This September marks the 127th anniversary of Agatha’s birth. So in Agatha’s honor, we’ll look at this traditional mystery genre closely associated with her novels, and explore ways to find works by other authors that will appeal to Cozy fans.

The heroine of Charlaine Harris’ Aurora Teagarden series is a librarian.

Mystery fiction is divided into several major categories. Hard and Soft Boiled Mysteries generally feature a seasoned professional detective who often must contend with personal demons while investigating a crime. Procedurals offer blow-by-blow analysis of how a crime is solved, either by detailed detective legwork or scientific investigation. Thrillers and Suspense novels don’t always hinge on solving a crime or murder that occurs at the start of a novel, but instead focus on some ever-intensifying threat to the protagonist and feature lots of plot twists. There are also countless mystery sub-genres – Capers, Domestic, Historic, Noir, Romantic Suspense and True Crime, to name a few.

And then there are the Cozies. Sometimes called Traditional Mysteries, the Cozies are distinguished from the darker, grittier mystery genres by several crucial characteristics:

  • Instead of a hard-boiled detective, the Cozy crime solver is an amateur sleuth who is almost always a woman. Agatha’s Miss Marple is a prime example. The amateur sleuth usually has some other vocation – caterer, chef, cat fancier, bed and breakfast owner, or librarian.
  • In a Cozy, the setting is key!

    The setting of a Cozy mystery is critical and helps provide the novel its “cozy” character. It is often set in a small rural town or charming village, or in some cases a closed environment such as an isolated estate or even a train. The intimate nature of the setting allows most of the suspects to know each other. Bishop’s Lacey, the quintessential English village featured in Alan Bradley’s delightful Flavia de Luce series, and Cabot Cove, the location of Donald Bain’s “Murder, She Wrote” novels, both illustrate the perfect Cozy setting.

  • Cozies are lighter in tone than other mystery genres. They are considered “gentle” mysteries with little or no graphic violence or explicit sex. The murder almost always happens “off stage” and the victim is sometimes a less-than-sterling character who may have had it coming. Any sex occurs strictly “behind closed doors.” [Quick note: some current Cozies tend to be edgier than earlier examples of the genre.]
  • The amateur sleuth is not a police officer or forensics expert, but almost always has a friend or significant other who is one. Through this friend, our sleuth gains access to information, such as an autopsy report, not usually available to your average person.
  • The local law enforcement tends to underestimate and dismiss the amateur sleuth, allowing her to “casually overhear” key details at a crime scene.
  • Many Cozy Mysteries are parts of series.

    A Cozy usually features a “red herring” – a clue that steers the reader away from the actual criminal or suggests an inaccurate conclusion.

  • The victim and possibly some of the suspects are often known to the amateur sleuth. They could be old college friends or coworkers.
  • Cozies usually boast a cast of colorful, likeable, eccentric secondary characters who are often as important to the reader as the amateur sleuth.
  • Cozy mysteries are often written as parts of a series. Readers become emotionally involved with the amateur sleuth and other recurring characters and feel they’re “coming home” to a familiar place and old friends when they begin their next Cozy. There are MANY series to choose from, but a few notable ones include Agatha’s Miss Marple series, M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series, Nancy Atherton’s Aunt Dimity series, Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, and the previously mentioned Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley (my personal favorite).

    Two intrepid Siamese, Koko and Yum Yum, help their human solve crimes in the “Cat Who” series.

  • Cozies sometimes center around a hobby or theme – everything from cats and the culinary arts to knitting and holidays to tea shops and libraries. A link to a great list of Cozy mysteries arranged by theme is included in “Further Reading” at the end of this article.
  • The good guys usually win and the evil-doers get their comeuppance.

Once you’ve devoured all of Agatha’s Miss Marple mysteries, what’s next?  The list of possibilities is literally endless. To help narrow the field, check out three of Agatha’s contemporaries who helped establish and refine the Traditional Mystery formula and, along with Agatha, comprised the four great “Queens of Crime”:  Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), famous for her Lord Peter Wimsey series, Margery Allingham (1904-1966), known for her Albert Campion series and Ngaio Marsh (1895-1982), creator of the Inspector Roderick Alleyn series. WCPL has a good selection of works by each of these writers.

For contemporary Cozy novels, there’s no better place to look than the list of winners and finalists of the annual Agatha Awards. Since 1988, Malice Domestic, an organization celebrating the Traditional Mystery, has honored mysteries that best typify Agatha Christie’s works, defined as mysteries that contain no explicit sex, no excessive gore or gratuitous violence, and can’t be classified as “Hard-Boiled.” The 2015 and 2016 Agatha Awards winners and finalists are listed below with titles available at WCPL noted in bold. A link to the complete list of winners and finalists since the Awards’ inception in 1988 is included below under “Further Reading.”

2016

2015

If you’re already a fan of Cozies or just ready to try them, one thing is certain — you won’t run out of reading material any time soon. See below for lists of works that will keep you reading for years to come. Enjoy…and stay Cozy!

Read the rest of this entry

Advertisements

More than just a Mystery

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Love a good mystery? Looking for a new author to read?  Since May is Mystery Month, you’re in luck!

First off, I need to tell you about a great database we subscribe to: Books & Authors. B&A offers new ways to explore books, authors, genres and topics. This database makes exploration of genre fiction and essential non-fiction fun! You can also look through lists created by libraries under Expert Picks & Librarian Lists to find new mystery genres to read. One of the best Books+and+Authorsfeatures is looking up a book you just enjoyed and finding a list of similar books and finding new authors to read. And you can access this list at home, before you come to the library, or go on READS.

There are another two great websites to consider when looking for new authors. You might already know about Good Reads for looking up reviews.  But did you know they have genre lists?  You can browse through page after page of books, read the blurbs and make your lists.  The second site we use often is Fantastic Fiction.  This is a great website that gives you series information either with an author search or a title search about British and American authors.

If you’re looking for new mystery books, try Stop, You’re Killing Me. It’s a great website for mystery lovers.  You can look for new mysteries by job (archaeologist, pathologist, farmer, antique dealer), by location or country, by historical time periods, by awards and by read-alikes.  It’s almost a one-stop shopping/reading center!Mystery

Most people choose what mysteries to read based on the New York Times Book List or word of mouth. But there are many genres of mysteries and many places to find more titles to read. There are police procedurals, thrillers, legal thrillers, historical mysteries, gothic mysteries, paranormal mysteries, cozy mysteries, mysteries set in foreign countries and in futuristic settings.

Cozy mysteries can be addictive. These are usually a series about amateur sleuths and you don’t want to miss one.  Some of the popular authors are Agatha Christie, Susan Wittig Albert, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and many more.

Gothic mysteries are usually set in a dark, spooky mansion or castle, with suspicious sounds and people. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen and Wuthering Heights may have been some of the first Gothic novels, but they certainly weren’t the last.  Mary Stewart, Phillis A Whitney, Victoria Holt, Barbara Michaels and V. C. Andrews are preeminent in this genre.  Diane Setterfield, M. J. Rose, John Harwood, Kristen Callahan are more contemporary authors of this genre.

If you get tired of mysteries in a current setting, try a historical mystery. There are so many series set in the middle ages.  One of the best featured Father Cadfael, soldier and man of the world who became a monk.  Most of the mysteries take place in the monastery or on the grounds.  Another good series features Marcus Didius Falco, and is set in ancient Rome.  One of the most popular was written by Arian Franklin, who unfortunately passed away several years ago.  Her detective was a woman physician who lived under Henry II of England’s rule.

cadfael-composite

John Grisham made the legal thriller a genre. Everyone was pleased when he wrote a sequel to A Time to Kill. Other authors in this genre are Scott Turow and John Ellsworth and John Lescroart.  And we can’t leave out Earl Stanley Gardner, who started it all with Perry Mason.  He is credited with influencing many people to become lawyers.

International mysteries, which are set in foreign countries, are fun to read. You learn about other countries, how the police and justice system work and they are absorbing.  Just about every country in the world has had at last one mystery set in it.  The Scandinavian countries are very popular locations now, what with The Girl Who and Wallander series.  Jo Nesbo is very popular, and Icelandic and Finnish stories are in the running as well.  One of the continued favorites read is Donna Leon, which features Commissario Brunetti in Venice. And Louise Penny must be mentioned here again since her series takes place in the Toronto area.

One good example of a paranormal mystery series is the character of Aunt Dimity, a ghost who assists in solving mysteries. Barbara Hambly has a series with a physician in Victorian England seeking the assistance of a vampire.  Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake would fit here, too; she’s a vampire slayer.  Patricia Briggs has quite a following with her series featuring Mercy Thompson; Simon R. Green has his Tales of the Nightside. Charles Stross, Dan Simmons and Nora Roberts write mysteries with a more science fiction edge.

GreenSR-Nightside-UK2-BlogPolice procedurals are mysteries are solved by police as they go about their daily duties, working with clues, putting them together, solving the crime and catching the bad guys. The detective novel is similar, but the crime solver has a few more liberties, and we learn more about their lives and sometimes loves and if you have an amateur detective, those are often considered cozy mysteries.  .  Louise Penny was won many awards for her police procedurals.  They are also excellent to listen to.  Other authors to consider are Carol O’Connor, Ed McBain, Michael Connelly, and Bill Pronzini.

Psychological suspense thrillers are the ones you can’t put down and keep you up at night. Remember Gone Girl?  That was Gillian Flynn, who is a master of this genre.  There are other authors too; S J Watson, Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train), Iris Johansen, Lisa Gardner, Jonathan Kellerman, Patricia Highsmith, Henry James, Dennis Lehane, Tana French, Mary Kubica and many, many more.


Sources:

 

%d bloggers like this: