While the past few years have seen a resurgence of cozy mystery popularity among readers, they seem to be treated like the black sheep of the crime literature family. Over the years, there have been several authors talking about the lack of respect that the subgenre gets. Ellen Byron, the author behind the Cajun Country Mysteries and the recent Vintage Cookbook Mystery series, said in a recent interview that cozies tend not to get reviewed in publications like People.
So Murder & Mayhem is going to take a dive into this dilemma and talk about why cozies should get more respect than they currently hold.
A Comfy Armchair
People have long associated the arts with pain and suffering. When we think of the Classics—now a term being debated and reassessed—we think of giant tomes of Leo Tolstoy or Victor Hugo. But it’s a fallacy to think that only "serious" books are worthy of consideration. Henri Matisse, the French visual artist, once said, “What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity…something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.”
For some, this quotation seems dismissive. Who would compare art to an armchair? But educator and activist Dr. César Cruz also said, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Given that the past few years have been tumultuous, it makes sense that people would want to have something reassuring to read.
Jennifer J. Chow, Lefty-nominated writer behind the Sassy Cat Mysteries and L.A. Night Market Series, wrote in an interview: "When you don't need a blazing thriller of a mystery, a cozy can serve as the reassuring warm hearth in a chilly world."
We need books that make us feel comfortable sometimes—or a lot of the time.
We all come to books for many reasons and that’s the great thing about them—there’s a book for every mood. So while some may want to feel catharsis from a Greek Tragedy, some may want to know that everything will be okay.
With a cozy, you know you are going to get a personable main character—often restarting their life and often a woman—with a delightful animal companion. Often cozies focus on a niche, such as a type of store or job, which means there’s a series for practically everyone’s interests from knitting to ice cream, book shops to pet grooming—and beyond. Then, there’s a sense of justice in the main character, wanting to right a wrong, whether it’s a family member or a friend accused. Or even someone they dislike but they feel that their enemy may have gotten the wrong end of the stick.
And you get to make new friends. Byron said, "When you read a cozy, a draw about them is that they create a world of people that you really wish could be your friends—people you could visit and spend time with. So it's comforting in that way.”
Not Serious Enough
Some people dismiss cozies because they don’t typically deal with "hard" issues. But that’s actually not true.
Within cozies, there’s a discussion of the underlying issue (or issues) in society. It’s just that cozies don’t hit you over the head with it.
"Cozies are comfort food in the general sense, which is one reason I think they get a little dismissed, which always upsets me.” Byron said, “There's no reason we should think less of them or write them off as fluff. In my own books, I touch on subjects like racism and anti-Semitism.”
Something for Everyone
While we’ve established that one of the strengths of cozies is that there is something for everyone, whatever your interests. But it’s also a genre that can be intergenerational. “I literally wanted to write something that my mother-in-law could read and feel perfectly comfortable sharing with her,” said Olivia Blacke, the author behind the Brooklyn Murder Mysteries and Record Shop Mysteries, “I have got the mother-in-law test.”
Chow added, “Cozy writers create intriguing stories filled with clues and misdirection that often appeal to multiple generations--and bind them together." And we should value things that bring people together from several generations together.
A Pun by Any Other Name
Cozies are frequently funny. There’s all sorts of hijinks especially when you have an amateur detective trying to find clues and interview suspects. And there’s the great punny titles like the recently published Vinyl Resting Place by Olivia Blacke or Two Parts Sugar, One Part Murder by Valerie Burns. But that might be part of the problem. Chow said, “Cozy mysteries often have humor in them and by association, may be taken more lightly.”
But humor shouldn’t diminish art’s importance or relevance. We need humor as a social release as well as a way of poking fun at the world as we know it. After all, some of the “Classic” writers have a lot of humor in their work, even Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and P.G. Wodehouse.
Books By Women Focusing on Women
In my conversation with Chow, she brought up a very important point: “They also feature the everyday woman (cozies usually have female protagonists) in the starring role.” Cozies are often written by women for women. And unfortunately, society has a tendency to dismiss things that women enjoy.
In 2019, New York Times published an article about misogyny that noted, “[d]isdain for women, it is sometimes argued, is also the reason certain corners of pop culture are dismissed. ‘Has Internalized Misogyny Kept Me From Reading Romance Novels My Whole Life?’ one writer asked.”
The parallel with romance and cozies is absolutely apt. Many people point to how romance, often written by women for women, prioritizes women’s needs and pleasure while many other forms of media do not. That in itself is worthy of respect.
Similarly, cozy mysteries show women often restarting their lives and realizing their dreams or their own potential. Many start and run their own businesses. For many people, regardless of gender, starting a business and being their own boss is a dream. What’s wrong with enjoying reading about the dream through the eyes of a sympathetic character in a cozy?
“‘Cozy’” is not a four-letter word,” Byron wrote in a blog post a few years ago. So we should confront the stigma and allow ourselves to enjoy what we enjoy!