Cosy Mysteries – Where Meddling is the Key (Phillipa Nefri Clark)

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This month one of our book club reads is Till Daph Do Us Part. Author Phillipa Nefri Clark is with us to discuss the cosy mystery genre:

Mysteries are second only to romance in popularity in fiction. It is human nature to seek the truth. Whether the person seeking to solve the mystery is a detective, forensic expert, or amateur sleuth, we love to solve the puzzle along with them, and pat ourselves on the back when we get it right.

Depending on our preference, we might enjoy those with a psychological edge, a straight-out police procedural or a fun easy to read cosy. Lead characters draw us back time and again. Sherlock Holmes, Adam Dalgliesh, Mike Hammer, Dr Kay Scarpetta, and Miss Marple come to mind.

Although many people are not familiar with the concept of the cosy mystery they have been around for a long time, Agatha Christie introduced us to Miss Marple in 1930!

Miss Marple was considered to be truly an amateur among amateur sleuths with no background in policing, or criminal affairs. She was a keen observer of people and relished the opportunity to poke her nose in where it wasn’t wanted.

She regularly drove the police mad with her interference, and ability to solve crimes with no more skill than impressive observation. The perfect example of a cosy mystery sleuth.

The cosy mystery is an immensely popular genre which also translates well to the small screen (think The Father Brown Mysteries), so what are its hallmarks? As with any genre there are exceptions, but reader expectations for cosies tend to fit within tighter boundaries than most.

Murders are common but not on the page. Violence and descriptive gore are not welcome. Bonus points for victims who are not very likeable, so we don’t mourn their passing.

The main character is always an amateur and generally a person who begins with no intention of solving crime. They may know the victim or be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but their superpowers are observation and puzzle solving. The words often used to describe a cosy mystery sleuth would offend the lead characters in other genres: meddling, nosy, annoying, busy-body, gossip.

Many cosies are set in small towns or other communities where people tend to know each other and a lot about each other’s business.

Romance is fine as long as it doesn’t overshadow the mystery, but fun times must stay off the page.

A cosy is a light read. There is a puzzle to solve and red herrings along the way, but the story is not ever scary or confronting. The appeal for readers is solving the case before the answers are revealed and a sense that if the flawed and under-qualified sleuth can do this, then so can they – even if just for a few hours.

Within the cosy genre are some popular themes such as animal cosies, paranormal cosies, culinary cosies (yum!), and craft/hobby cosies. Series are common, even some very long series which are reminiscent of Murder, She Wrote, with murders and crimes galore in what should be a nice place to live.

Cosies are light and fun and satisfying for readers who enjoy a pleasant escape for a few hours. They are usually relatively short and often are easily recognised by the style of book cover, which generally reflects the fun aspect of the cosy. And for the reader, sometimes a visit to a place where every crime is neatly solved is the perfect choice.

Phillipa Nefri Clark

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