by Sheila Connolly
When I’m in Ireland, I spend a lot of time in bookstores. This is easy because there are a lot of bookstores in Ireland. Just about every block in Dublin has one, ranging from multi-story upscale places to defiantly tatty little ones selling used books and leftist literature (that one’s named Connolly’s). And everything in between.
In Skibbereen (one of my favorite places ever) in County Cork, the fabulous supermarket sells books; there’s a small bookstore down the street (there is essentially only one main street); and there’s a wonderful antiquarian bookstore that actually expanded in the past year. If you’re looking for hard-to-find books and plays from Irish and European writers, that’s your place. I bought my daughter a 1950s Broadway Playbill there, go figure.
But back to the point. In the very nice Dublin bookstore Hodges Figgis (founded in 1768 and mentioned by James Joyce in Ulysses, I’m told), not far from the rather posh Saint Stephen’s Green (where the Irish Penguin offices are located), I came upon something I had not seen before: a rack of books dedicated to cozies, clearly labeled.
Well, sort of clearly. The label was given in both English and Irish. The English was simple enough: Cosy Crime. I all but applauded.
The Irish reads: Coirscéalta Tíriúla. Now, I’ve taken several years of Irish language classes, but my vocabulary is pitiful, and it takes me forever to construct a simple sentence. In this case, I knew that scéalta meant stories or tales (see? I did learn something). But what is coir? Logically enough, it turns out to mean crime, or alternately, justice. Great—we have crime stories (or justice stories—I kind of like that interpretation). Now for tíriúla. My well-worn Irish dictionary tells me that it means “homely” or “sociable.”
So the Irish version of a cozy (or cosy) mystery is a sociable crime story. Or a homely one, although I assume in this case homely means ordinary and everyday, not ugly.
And if you think about it, it fits. Cozies are crime stories that happen in ordinary settings among ordinary people. A crime in that setting is jarring, and it must be solved to restore order to the mini-universe of the tale. (For some reason I keep hearing Obi-Wan Kenobi saying, “I felt a great disturbance in the Force.” Well, you know what I mean.)
“Sociable” works too. Cozies are not about surly PIs skulking in corners and accosting thugs, or even about cops methodically assembling evidence. They’re about ordinary people talking to each other, sharing information and insights, until together they finally point to the culprit—by thinking, not usually by force. That’s what readers identify with: even they could solve the crime, given the evidence.
I was so happy to see the cosy banner flying in Dublin that I asked a sales clerk why they had a special section for them (in the middle of an aisle! In the front of the store!), and she said simply, “because people ask for them.”
Another reason why I love the Irish: they read. And they read cosies.