Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cozy Cliches

I read a LOT of mysteries.  I always tend to think of myself as a fantasy/paranormal type of gal, but every time I tally up how many books I've read per genre per year, mysteries come out on top.
And many of those mysteries are cozies.
A cozy mystery is along the lines of Agatha Christie, not too violent, short, often meant to appeal to women.  But the more cozies I read, the more I'm convinced there's an unwritten list of rules to be followed.
1) Nearly every cozy has a female protagonist, occasionally a senior citizen of the Miss Marple variety, but usually age 30-something.
2) Said female protagonist must have been either divorced or dumped by a man before the first book in the series begins so that she is romantically free.
3) She must not be conventionally pretty or aware of her "natural" beauty, yet nearly every man her age stares at her on the street.  She may not diet; sometimes she is a bit chubby (translation: she wears a size 8 instead of a size 2); she eats.  But men go crazy for her anyway.
4) She must have at least 2 guys who are truly after her, and she must have trouble deciding between them.  Often these guys are the traditional love triangle, with one being a bit of a "bad boy," or at least unexpected: he's younger, he's from a mafia family, he's a rock star, he's a biker dude, he has a questionable reputation.
5) She must be personally acquainted with at least one cop: he's usually one of the boyfriends, but occasionally he's her dad or her neighbor.  If she's a senior citizen, then he's her son or nephew.
6) The protagonist likes to think of herself as strong and independent, but she is constantly needing to be rescued by the two boyfriends and/or the cop.  Also, the men she knows will treat her as something that must be protected and taken care of, and she will find this endearing and/or romantic instead of nauseating.
7) She must have a best friend, usually another single female (her Bess and George, so to speak), but a gay guy works also.  This friend cannot be a romantic distraction to the men who are after the protagonist.  The protagonist depends on this friend for a job and/or to figure everything out.  Again, the protagonist  thinks of herself as independent, but she's always very dependent on the friend.
8) The protagonist must live in a small town where everyone gossips about everyone else.  This is how she gets her information.
9) The protagonist may not be an actual detective or police officer, and she must be warned off/threatened off the case by the official forces of the law at least once or twice during each case.
10) The protagonist must work freelance or in a small business in the small town.  She may never work in a large corporation or office or have a job that demands a certain schedule.
11) The job is usually the theme for the book.  Cozies must have a craft or cooking theme of some kind, and "extras" are often included at the end: recipes, craft instructions, homemaking tips.
12) The climax of the plot will usually involve the protagonist going off to find the villain alone --- making some crucial and stupid mistake, such as leaving her cellphone in the car or walking down a deserted street at 2:00 AM -- and it will require her life to be in danger so she can be rescued by one of the men in love with her and/or by the cops.

That's about it.
They're not great literature, but I'm rather addicted to them.  Unfortunately, many of them are really poorly written, with dangling modifiers, characters that are built up as important then never seen again, and gaping plot holes.  But I usually read them anyway.  They're sort of like comic books for middle-aged women.
If I can ever get myself through my 4 current writing projects, I think I ought to try a cozy.  Just to be a rebel, I think I'll make the protagonist a teenager.  Or maybe I'll make her a school teacher and give lesson plans as the extras!  Funny!
Either way, you can bet your booty that no protagonist of mine is going to wait around to be rescued.


  1. Hmmm they don't sound like my thing - but perhaps I've read some - what authors would you include in this category?

  2. I enjoy cozy mysteries too. You are right, they are comic books for middle-aged women!