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What Makes a Murder Mystery Fun?

Thank you for receiving these musings,

some philosophical, some mystical, some maybe even a-musing.

What Makes a Murder Mystery Fun? What makes a whodunit cozy?

As it turns out, there are several important elements an author must employ to turn a murder mystery into a pleasant read in front of the fire with a pot of tea, or glass of wine and a few blurted-out laughs. These important elements have inspired a whole world of cozy readers.

The success of the genre is impressive. In the world of publishing, the mystery and suspense genre runs a close second to the romance genre which is the leader in sales. And in the last decade or so, the cozy mystery subgenre has taken a large nibble out of the mystery pie.

So, is that why I wrote a cozy anthology – the money? Well, in all honesty, that would be nice to actually make some money writing. But, it was a Dead Bird contest, a mystery contest loosely associated with a local chapter of Sisters in Crime, that got me started with the first one. Then, I penned two more short stories and am now writing a cozy novella. The funny thing is, I didn’t think about those literary components that make a cozy, cozy. The format of the stories came naturally, and I know why: Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple, Perry Mason, Murder She Wrote, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys. Okay, I’m definitely showing my age here, but you get the gist. The format of the cozy mystery is engrained in our culture. When I looked into what cozy components an author should have in his/her story, I was happy to find all of them in mine.

In researching this, almost every article mentions and/or provides a bullet-point list of the essential gems a cozy must possess. I’ll do the same, without bullets – because we’re talking cozy here.

An Amateur Sleuth – An average person, like you and me, could solve a crime and bring justice to bear. It’s the hero archetype of the average person doing extraordinary things to save the day.

An unsuspecting victim – Generally, this is someone who doesn’t deserve it.

A quirky supporting cast - The protagonist is surrounded by a group of family and friends, who both help and hinder the determined sleuth.

And don't forget the essential element of the furry friend or two or three! Dogs and cats figure prominently in many a successful cozy.

No explicit sex or gore on the page – The hallmark of the cozy! The murder is off-stage, and the bedroom door is closed.

The crime can be other than murder - Attempted murder, theft, fraud, and general chicanery all deserve a good amateur detective.

Often set in a small town or a defined neighborhood – A more intimate theatre of crime.

A trail of clues and red herrings – Cozy readers are smart and like their mysteries to be clever. They want a good puzzle to solve.

A villain who falls short of being completely evil – The villain is frequently an average person pushed to his/her limits.

It offers the reader a peek into a new world – Notice that many cozies have titles and covers that play to a certain time and setting. This can be a great “Hook.”

Only the mildest of profanity allowed - A nice respite from the hard-boiled crime story, for sure.

In a cozy, there is happily ever after and justice is served. Of course! That’s why we love the genre.

What is your favorite cozy series? For me, on television it is definitely Poirot. In books, I have to go with the series my mother loved – The Cat Who… Someday, I hope my Nora Pigeon Mysteries will be someone’s favorite, too. Isn’t that what all we writers wish?

The Nora Pigeon Mysteries is available on Amazon

The series will continue soon with

A Most Curious Conundrum in Cricket Cove

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Native Flute

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