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On August 2nd I participated in a panel entitled LET’S GET COZY at the Deadly Ink Mystery Conference at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, New Jersey. K. B. Inglee was the moderator. The other panelists were Steve Rigolosi, Peggy Ehrhart, John Clement, Ilene Schneider and Jane Kelly. We discussed what makes a mystery a cozy and why cozies are so popular.

Although I can already think of exceptions to nearly every point I list, here is what, in my view, comprises a cozy mystery. In my next blog I’ll tackle their popularity.

Protagonist is an amateur, a civilian, thrown into the mystery by happenstance. She is often a woman, and one the reader can identify with, with one or two relatable flaws. She has an interesting career or interest that leads her (sometimes reluctantly) to the mystery. She can be any age.

Setting is a small environment of people, an idealized community we’d all love to live in: a neighborhood in a city, a small town, a fishing village, a theatre, perhaps even a school. A place where everyone knows each other. One could argue that the Harry Potter books are cozies, with Hogwarts the small community of people. When we think “cozy mystery” we usually think of a small English village created by Agatha Christie. The death occurs “off screen”—we do not witness the violent act. There isn’t any gore or blood.

Sex is downplayed or nonexistent.

Profanity is minimal or nonexistent.

Often the protagonist has a friend or family member who is connected to the authorities somehow—the police, the mayor’s office, the school principal, medical examiner, a detective or security company.

Sometimes the supporting characters are a bit offbeat or eccentric, adding humor and whimsy to the book.

The murderers are not serial killers or psychopaths, they are people the reader can identify with, but some circumstance has caused them to snap.

In recent years, niche cozies have evolved. If you are interested in antique prints, cats, dogs, quilting, bookbinding, knitting, old house or furniture restoration, inns, Civil war reenactments, wineries, whitewater rafting, golf, cooking, baking… whatever it is, there is undoubtedly a cozy mystery about it.

The emphasis is on plot and characters, not action.

The books are usually written in series form so that the reader can enjoy the main characters and the community through numerous mysteries.

Don’t think that cozies are just for women. There are a number of cozies written by and for men. Many are niche cozies about topics that are traditionally “male” interest: golf, historic house/inn or general home renovation, fishing. I have never seen a football cozy but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has written one!

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