Cozy Mysteries

Cozy mysteries are sometimes referred to as "nice" or "soft-boiled" mysteries. The main features of a cozy are empathetic protagonists and the lack of graphic violence and language. Plot is generally secondary to characterization and setting. Typical cozies are Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series and Lilian Jackson Braun’s "The Cat Who . . ." series. A murder usually occurs, but the actual violence occurs off-stage and is not described in graphic detail. Sex, if mentioned at all, also tends to occur off-stage and the reader is again spared the details.

Events usually occur within a rural or small-town setting rather than a big city atmosphere; thus interactions between sleuth and suspect often take on a personal aspect. Cozy sleuths are generally positive people with typical, usually humorous, human foibles – no tortured souls here. However, cozy authors sometimes bestow their heroes and heroines with hectic domestic situations and imperfect character traits such as crankiness and selfishness (M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin and Tamar Myers’ Magdalena Yoder are two examples). Cozies are often humorous and lighthearted.

Crimes are most often "domestic;" that is, the murderer ultimately turns out to be someone who had a relationship to the victim and a personal motive for the murder. Interactions with suspects and study of human nature generally provide the clues that ultimately solve the crime, rather than technical forensic evidence.

Cozies may take the form of a police procedural (M. C. Beaton’s Hamish McBeth series; Carolyn Graham’s Chief Inspector Barnaby series) or more often an amateur detective story (Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series). Although not a strict indicator of the cozy mystery type, cozies often feature the English Country Village or Manor setting, where a murder occurs amidst a large group of people, all of whom become suspects. The newer amateur detective cozies often have a theme of a hobby or business around which the action takes place. For example, Diane Mott Davidson’s sleuth Goldy Schulz continually gets involved in murder investigations through her catering business, and the books contain recipes. Tamar Myers "Den of Antiquity" mysteries feature Abigail Timberlake, whose occupation of antiques dealer gets her embroiled in many a murder. Such cozies appeal to readers who share interest in the topic. Another common device seems to be the presence of cats and/or little old ladies.

  • Atherton, Nancy -- The Aunt Dimity series
    • Set in England, these mysteries feature Lori Shepherd, a down-to-earth young woman, and her sweet Aunt Dimity. What makes these mysteries unusual is that Aunt Dimity is a ghost. It is surprisingly easy to suspend one’s disbelief and enjoy watching Lori solve crimes aided by clues from beyond the grave. First in the series is Aunt Dimity’s Death.
  • Beaton, M. C. -- Death of a. . . . series
    • Hamish McBeth makes up the entire police force of the small town of Lochdubh in the Scottish Highlands. He appears bumbling and unambitious but has a knack for solving one murder after another that occur in his town and environs. Intimate knowledge of the area and its inhabitants provide clues to solve the crimes. First in the series is Death of a Gossip. Readers will also enjoy Rhys Bowen’s Evan Evans series.
    • Beaton also writes mysteries featuring Agatha Raisin, a 50-ish retired Londoner adapting to country life in the Cotswolds. She is spared a boring retirement by a series of murders into which she snoops. The feisty, irascible and amorous Raisin is an engaging character. First in the series is Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death. Readers will also enjoy Simon Brett’s Mrs. Pargeter series and Heron Carvic’s Miss Seeton series.
  • Braun, Lilian Jackson -- The Cat Who . . . series
    • The well-known Cat Who . . . mysteries feature Jim Qwilleran, journalist and heir to a fortune in Pickax, a fictional town "north of everywhere." His two Siamese cats, KoKo and YumYum, are always featured and often provide clues for Qwilleran to solve the crime. Plot is secondary to the antics of the characters, both human and feline. These are fast, light-hearted reads. First in the series is The Cat Who Could Read Backwards. Cozy and cat lovers may also enjoy Lydia Adamson’s Alice Nestleton series and Marian Babson’s standalone cat mysteries.
  • Cannell, Dorothy -- The Thin Woman; How to Murder Your Mother-in-Law; The Importance of Being Ernestine
    • Cannell’s Ellie Haskell mysteries are a fresh, modern take on the traditional English country village cozy. Interior decoration is a recurring theme. These are lighthearted, funny reads which often spoof the traditional mystery. Readers who enjoy these mysteries will also enjoy Jill Churchill’s Jane Jeffrey series and Joan Hess’s Claire Malloy series.
  • Christie, Agatha -- Miss Marple series, Hercule Poirot series
    • Some believe the traditional cozy was invented by Agatha Christie. Her "golden age" mysteries are set in the 1930s and 40s. Everyone knows Miss Marple: A sweet, elderly lady with the mind of a steel trap. Miss Marple applies her extensive experience of small-town life to solving crimes, usually murder. She uses her harmless appearance and sweet nature to get people gossiping, and the next thing you know she’s leaving Scotland Yard in the dust. Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver mysteries are very similar and readers will also enjoy Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax series.
    • The appeal of this series is undoubtedly Poirot himself. The sensitive, slightly arrogant little Belgian with the grand mustache enjoys making a show of his world-famous detective status and delightfully exhorting his duller colleagues to "use the little grey cells."
  • Davidson, Diane Mott -- Catering to Nobody, The Main Corpse, Chopping Spree, Tough Cookie
    • Goldy Bear Shulz runs a catering business in Aspen, Colorado. The appeal of these mysteries are the relationships between the characters, the descriptions of cooking and food, and the included recipes. Readers will also enjoy Nancy Pickard’s Eugenia Potter series and Tamar Myers’ Magdalena Yoder series (which also contains recipes).
  • Gilman, Dorothy -- Mrs. Pollifax series
    • Meet Mrs. Pollifax: elderly widow, grandmother, garden club matron, and undercover CIA agent. The irrepressible Pollifax travels all over the world on assigmment. More suspense and adventure than Christie’s Miss Marple series, but with the same shrewd-little-old-lady element. First in the series is The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax.
  • Graham, Caroline -- The Killings at Badger’s Drift, Death of Hollow Man, Murder at Madingley Grange
    • These English country village mysteries feature the placid yet shrewd Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby. The focus of these mysteries is the characters and their relationships with each other, and in this Graham delves into the darker side of human beings than do most cozies as a rule. The appeal of this series is Barnaby’s interaction with the murder suspects and his appreciation of the complexity of human nature.You may have seen these on TV as the Midsomer Murders. Readers will also enjoy Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series and Catherine Aird’s DI Sloan series, as well as Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford series.
  • Hall, Parnell -- A Clue for the Puzzle Lady; A Puzzle in a Pear Tree; With This Puzzle I Thee Kill
    • "Imagine Miss Marple as a promiscuous lush," says Publisher’s Weekly, and you have Cora Felton, eccentric puzzle expert of Bakerhaven, Connecticut. Crossword puzzle enthusiasts will enjoy trying to solve the included puzzles. Readers should also enjoy MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series.
  • Hart, Carolyn G. -- Death on Demand; The Mint Julep Murder; Engaged to Die
    • Annie Laurence is the owner of a mystery bookstore called "Death on Demand" in Broward’s Rock, South Carolina. These are the ultimate "nice" mysteries, with gentle language and an ongoing love interest who usually plays a part in the mystery-solving. Though not an integral part of the plots, Annie’s pet cats will appeal to cat lovers. Lighthearted atmosphere and often intricate plotting characterize this award-winning series. Readers will also enjoy Joan Hess’s Claire Malloy series and Charlotte MacLeod’s Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn series.
  • McCall-Smith, Alexander -- The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, The Kalahari Typing School for Men, Full Cupboard of Life
    • Mme Precious Ramotswe has been called the "Miss Marple of Botswana." Ramotswe is Africa’s first female private detective and is wise, cunning and moral in her investigations. As is typical of cozies, the lush African setting and the interactions between the characters are the main appeal. Also appealing is the folksy, storytelling writing style.
  • Peters, Elizabeth -- Crocodile on the Sandbank; He Shall Thunder in the Sky
    • Archaeologist Amelia Peabody is the stubbornly independent heroine in these mysteries set in the late 19th century. Her personality is especially appealing in a time period in which such personality traits are not encouraged in women. Amelia and her archaeologist husband bicker and investigate murder amidst the Egyptian ruins. Readers may also enjoy Michael Pearce’s Mamur Zapt series.

Short Story Collections:

  • Murder British Style: nineteen classic cozy mysteries edited by Martin H. Greenberg.
  • More Murder Most Cozy: more mysteries in the classic tradition from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine edited by Cynthia Manson. SS MORE

More cozy mystery series - author and character:

A- Amateur P - Police Procedural H - Historical

  • Adamson, Lydia - Alice Nestleton A
  • Aird, Catherine - D.I. Sloan P
  • Albert, Susan - China Bayles A
  • Andrews, Donna - Meg Lanslow A
  • Babson, Marian - nonseries A
  • Berenson, Laurien - Melanie Travis A
  • Bowen, Rhys - Evan Evans P
  • Brett, Simon - Charles Paris A
  • Brett, Simon - Mrs. Melita Pargeter A
  • Brown, Rita Mae - Mary Haristeen A
  • Butler, Gwendoline - John Coffin P
  • Carvic, Heron - Miss Emily Seeton A
  • Conant, Susan - Holly Winter A
  • Connor, Beverly - Lindsay Chamberlain A
  • Crombie, Deborah - Duncan Kincaid P
  • Churchill, Jill - Jane Jeffrey A
  • Dams, Jeanne - Dorothy Martin A
  • Dams, Jeanne - Hilda Johansson A
  • Fowler, Earlene - Benni Harper A
  • Fraser, Antonia - Jemima Shore A
  • Harris, Charlaine - Lily Bard A
  • Holt, Hazel - Sheila Malory A
  • MacLeod, Charlotte - Sarah Kelling A
  • Macpherson, Rett - Torie O’Shea A
  • Maron, Margaret - Deborah Knott A
  • Marsh, Ngaio - Roderick Alleyn P
  • Meier, Leslie - Lucy Stone A
  • Myers, Tamar - Abigail Timberlake A
  • Myers, Tamar - Magdalena Yoder A
  • Minichino, Camille - Gloria Lamorino A
  • Pearce, Michael - Mamur Zapt P
  • Peters, Ellis - Brother Cadfael H
  • Pickard, Nancy - Jenny Cain A
  • Pickard, Nancy - Eugenia Potter A
  • Pickard, Nancy - Marie Lightfoot A
  • Rendell, Ruth - Inspector Wexford P
  • Richman, Phyllis - Chas Wheatley A
  • Ripley, Ann - Louise Eldridge A
  • Roosevelt, Elliott - Eleanor Roosevelt H
  • Smith, Julie - Skip Langdon P
  • Wentworth, Patricia - Miss Silver A

Mystery Selection Aids in the Reference Department at WRL:

  • Read On Crime Fiction by Barry Trott
  • Make Mine a Mystery: a Reader’s Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction by Gary Warren Niebuhr
  • Detecting Women: a reader’s guide and checklist for mystery series written by women & Detecting women 2: a reader's guide and checklist for mystery series written by women by Willetta L. Heising
  • Detecting Men: a reader’s guide and checklist for mystery series written by men by Willetta L. Heising
  • What Mystery Do I Read Next? A reader’s guide to recent mystery fiction by Steven A. Stilwell