What is a Cozy?

We are sure the debate over what is a cozy will never end.

FebBooksSherry: Edith and I recently attended Left Coast Crime in Monterey, California. During one of the panels there was a discussion about what defines a cozy mystery and what makes it different than a traditional mystery. I was surprised when one author said the most important thing in a cozy is the setting. Another author said that cozies have a “precious” factor.

I found both of these statements interesting and inaccurate when thinking about my upcoming novel Tagged for Death (coming in December 2014 from Kensington — I know, I know shameless self promotion alert). While I love the setting I created — the fictional town of Ellington, Massachusetts and a fictional Air Force Base, Fitch AFB — without the characters and action no one would give a fig about them. I like to think my characters and storyline are real and plausible. What do you think Wickeds?

IMG_3160Edith: I have a little set piece I bring out when people ask what a cozy mystery is. To summarize: village setting, amateur sleuth, a lighter tone, with sex, violence, and obscenities all off the page. But as Cleo Coyle does so well, a village can be a neighborhood in a big city. And mild swearing sometimes creeps onto the page. And sometimes the romance gets a little hot. Breaking the rules is allowed. But maybe others have different rules. At LCC one panel invented the term “cozy noir.” How’s that for a crossover?

maplemayhemJessie: I think cozies provide a puzzle in a place readers would like to visit over and over, peopled with characters that come to feel like old friends. For me, cozies are about communities a sleuth cares enough about to try to return things to normal after the unthinkable happens

Julie: This is such a great question, and I’ve thought a lot about it. I wrote a post on my other blog (Live to Write/Write to Live) about being a cozy reader/writer. I really love the genre, and look back to the Golden Age of detective fiction (between the world wars) for inspiration for my definition of a modern cozy. A cozy is in a small community/controlled space, has interesting characters, a good puzzle, lacks gore, sex is off screen, and it restores order and/or provides justice. The last is important–cozies help people feel better about the chaos of life. Ironically, it is done via a murder (usually), but that dichotomy is for another post.

Boiled Over front coverBarb: I think about this a lot, too. For me, as others have suggested, in a cozy mystery the world is an orderly and just place and the sleuth’s journey (usually, but not always an amateur) is to restore order and serve justice by solving the crime. In noir, the world is a chaotic and unjust place and the sleuth’s journey only proves how chaotic and unjust the world is and always will be. Which is why I’m not sure about “cozy noir.” I think “cozy” is a bigger tent than people credit it, and cozy readers are similarly more diverse and eclectic than you might expect. (At least the ones I hear from.) Though cozies are often considered to be written by women, for women (and we should talk about the impact of that at some future time), I’ve been astonished by how many men have read and enjoyed Clammed Up.

Readers: What do you think?