Archives for posts with tag: cozy mystery

The 2015 Agatha Awards, from last night’s ceremony at Malice Domestic in Bethesda, Maryland. The winners are in bold. Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees!

The Good, The Bad and The Emus by Donna Andrews
A Demon Summer by G.M. Malliet
Truth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan
The Long Way Home by Louise Penny
Designated Daughters by Margaret Maron

Hunting Shadows by Charles Todd
An Unwilling Accomplice by Charles Todd
Wouldn’t it Be Deadly by D.E. Ireland
Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen
Murder in Murray Hill by Victoria Thompson

Circle of Influence by Annette Dashofy
Tagged for Death by Sherry Harris
Finding Sky by Susan O’Brien
Well Read, Then Dead by Terrie Farley Moran
Murder Strikes a Pose by Tracy Weber

400 Things Cops Know: Street Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman by Adam Plantinga
Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey by Hank Phillippi Ryan, Editor
Death Dealer: How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a Killer to Justice by Kate Flora
The Art of the English Murder by Lucy Worsley
The Poisoner: The Life and Crimes of Victorian England’s Most Notorious Doctor by Stephen Bates

“The Odds are Against Us” by Art Taylor, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014
“Premonition” by Art Taylor, Chesapeake Crimes Homicidal Holidays
“The Shadow Knows” by Barb Goffman, Chesapeake Crimes Homicidal Holidays
“Just Desserts for Johnny” by Edith Maxwell
“The Blessing Witch” by Kathy Lynn Emerson, Best New England Crime Stories 2015: Rogue Wave

Andi Under Pressure by Amanda Flower
Greenglass House by Kate Milford
Uncertain Glory by Lea Wait
The Code Buster’s Club, Case #4: The Mummy’s Curse by Penny Warner
Found by Harlen Coben


Thanks to Donna Andrews for posting the winners in real time on Facebook for those of us who couldn’t be at the ceremony.


Looking for a great holiday gift for the cozy mystery reader on your list? Don’t know what to buy, or what books have been read? Chances are they’ll find all of their favorite authors (including me!) in this cookbook, available in paperback and in Kindle.

It’s finally cool to be smart. The television show Scorpion — another show about geniuses, this one packed full of them! — debuted on Monday night, and CBS re-ran the pilot episode last night. After the Big Bang Theory, The Mentalist, Sherlock Holmes, Person of Interest and Numbers, I was ready for more, and Scorpion delivered something different. The cool factor.

The idea of a group of geniuses — one a computer genius who is the 4th smartest person in the world, another a mechanical genius, a statistics genius and a psychological genius — teaming up with an “average woman” whose role is to humanize them (in turn they will help her understand her genius son) to work with Homeland Security to help save the world, while seeming pretty pat, is, in my view, inspirational.

I love that the show is based on Walter O’Brien, who wrote an algorithm that tracked motion on all the cameras within a two-mile radius of the Boston Marathon blast and helped find the bomber by demonstrating that his facial expression did not change after the bombs went off. The events in the beginning of the episode—his home in Ireland being raided by authorities after he hacked into NASA’s computer system at the age of 13—are true. He now runs the successful computer security firm, Scorpion Computer Services.

I hope they minimize the “we’re so smart we don’t tap into our emotions” vibe in later episodes. Sheldon Cooper gives us enough of that. Why can’t someone be super-smart, eccentric, march to the beat of a different drum, and also emotionally capable of warmth and love? Leonard Hofstadter can, so let’s see some of that, Scorpion writers.

The Scorpion gang are clearly cool nerds, and I hope that will resonate with teenagers. Solving world problems is a powerful theme on television, and there is no shortage of crime-fighters and problem-solvers. So many of those characters admirably work to save the world, but ultimately the action involves guns and violence. I mean you Homeland, NCIS and its spinoffs. It’s nice to see a show where the saving is done with brain power and not gun powder.

The pilot episode of Scorpion had one of the most exciting action chase scenes — involving an airplane flying over a Ferrarri — that I’ve ever seen, and it did not involve a gun. Cool. Smart. Non-violent. Successful. Kudos.

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Last week in my blog What exactly is a Cozy Mystery? I promised to address their popularity in my next blog.
First, let’s talk about why mystery novels are so popular. The common notion is that people read mysteries because they want a puzzle, something to figure out. I believe that people read mysteries because they want to use their mind when they are reading, they want to be involved in the experience. They want to read actively, rather than passively receive the experience of the words.

What is it about cozies in particular, that make them so popular? Beyond the attraction of different genres, I believe the reason is the Cheers Factor. The television show Cheers was set in a small bar in Boston, a place “where everyone knows your name.” You thought I was going to say the Cabot Cove Factor, didn’t you? Doesn’t everyone want to live in Cabot Cove? Recognize Jessica’s house above? Doesn’t everyone long to live in a charming small town vacation spot where they know everyone, have lots of time to pursue their interests, have lovely surroundings, and a comfortable life? That is all true, of course, but I believe that the Cheers Factor DRIVES the Cabot Cove Factor. We are more and more isolated in modern times and long for a place “where everyone knows your name.”
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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!

vp cookbook

My mother got a copy of Mary and Vincent Price’s A Treasury of Great Recipes when it was published in 1965, and that book changed our lives. Seriously. My mother had a lot of cookbooks back then, but this was the one we cuddled up with in the afternoons after school. When I think of cozy, comforting moments from my childhood, that’s what comes to mind, Mom and me side by side on the couch, the book spread over our laps.

We studied every page carefully, and went back to our favorites over and over. We examined the menus of the restaurants, many famous, some not, that Mary and Vincent visited, and the recipes the restaurants shared with them. Indeed the book’s subtitle is Famous Specialties of the World’s Foremost Restaurants Adapted for the American Kitchen. Wonderful head-notes describe their visits to a given restaurant and their enjoyment of the food and company, as well as their later experiences making the recipes at home. Can’t you just picture Vincent Price clanging around with his copper pots, with that twinkle in his eyes and devilish grin, offering Mary a taste of New England Clam Chowder from Locke-Ober’s recipe?

This book was designed to be savored. It is such a beautiful book. The first printings featured a padded bronze-colored cover and matching ribbon bookmark. At the rear of the book there was a section for wine lists and personal recipes. I have seen this done in recent years, but the idea was new in 1965-era cookbooks. There may be equally artfully done cookbooks from that period or before, but I don’t recall any.  Mom and I especially loved the magnificent photos of Vincent and Mary Price’s home filled with art. I can close my eyes are bring up every detail of the copper pots and tiles in their kitchen, which appear opposite the introduction, “An Invitation and a Promise.”

This is not the page from the book, but it is a photo of the kitchen that is pictured on that page. I do not have permission to publish text pages from the book.

Before Mom got the book, my knowledge of Vincent Price consisted of House on Haunted Hill, the horror film that my brother loved and I pretended to be brave enough to watch with my eyes open. Little did I know that Price made those films to feed his passions for art collecting, world travel and good food. When my mother and step-father went to restaurants in the book and brought home the menus to save in the pages of the book, they were channeling the lifestyle example set by Mary and Vincent in their travels.

House on Haunted Hill movie poster

Mom bought copies of the book for every birthday and wedding shower in the family in those years. Later, when it was out-of-print and I worked in the book business in New York, I grabbed every copy I ever found in bookstores all over, just to have extras on hand for us to share with future converts. We each try to have a “good” copy and a “working” copy, but sometimes the “good” copy gets given away. Then the chase is on to replace it.

My mother was an equally big fan of Vincent Price’s autobiography, I Like What I Know, which describes his experiences as an art collector as well as his adventures as an actor.

Whenever Mom would take children in the family to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, she would first take them to visit her favorite painting, Vermeer’s A Girl Resting. When Vincent Price curated a selection of art reproductions for Sears, he included that painting, to her delight. Of course Mom bought it, and it held pride of place over the piano.

Mom had the pleasure of meeting Vincent Price on a mystery cruise to Bermuda in 1985.He was pleased that she brought several of his books, including  I Like What I Know—required reading in our art and food-loving family—for his autograph. Their meeting happened to occur on her birthday.

Sally Murphy and Vincent Price, October 2, 1985.

Sally Murphy and Vincent Price, October 2, 1985.

They discussed the well-known Native American art collection at the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey, where my mother volunteered for many years. That was a birthday Mom will never forget.

My mother usually had the book open on the kitchen table, and taught me to cook from it. It includes Sardi’s Meat Sauce (page 285), a natural for my New Yorker mother. I know no other, and it is my go-to sauce from scratch. When we were expecting a tornado to make land one time when I was in Florida, after we filled the tub with water and taped up the windows, I baked a cake and made a big batch of Sardi’s sauce and spaghetti to get us through the storm. We stayed up all night and feasted. One year when I didn’t return home from college for Thanksgiving, I made the French Chocolate Ice Cream (page 441) for a large group as we dined on old doors held up with cement blocks in a drafty loft. It wasn’t traditional apple pie for dessert, and we fancied ourselves rebels (it was the 70s), so we liked it more.

When I met my husband of course I showed him the book. He noticed that the Lasserre Restaurant was included, and through his eyes I was charmed anew by the menu which featured bare-bottomed cherubs in chef’s hats attending the Rotisseur and tripping and falling as one ran in carrying a duck twice his size, knocking over another cherubic chef carrying a platter of vegetables. My husband had lived in Paris as a child, and his parents had enjoyed dining at Lasserre. Soon after our honeymoon, as new brides are wont to do, I made Soupe À L’Oignon (page 46) for him, because I knew it to be a favorite. It was my only failed recipe from the book.

I could go on. But then there’s the banana nut bread. Mom and I tried it one wintry day after school and never looked back. I have been baking it for forever. One year I made a loaf as a Christmas gift for each person in my company’s editorial department. Many of us have our go-to recipes to bring places, and this is one of my favorites.

banana breasdMy son prefers it without the walnuts, and that’s okay. No matter how busy I am, if we have bananas in the house, I cannot refuse a request from him. As long as he smothers it with cream cheese as the head-note to the recipe prescribes, it is as Vincent says, “ambrosia”—and who can turn down that prospect.

Cinnamon Girl_Front Cover Crop_Lo-Res_Facebook-Twitter_72dpiWhen I decided to write a mystery novel, there was no question that I would set it in a cookbook shop. Inspired by the fact that Vincent and Mary collected recipes from beloved restaurants in the book, I included “Recipes from Treasured Cookbooks” in Cinnamon Girl: A Village Cooks Mystery as openers to many of the chapters. The characters discuss the book at dinner one night:

“The great part about it,” Sally joined in, excitedly, “is that Vincent and Mary went home and prepared the recipes themselves. It is not just a collection of recipes from landmark restaurants all over the world. Anyone could have done that. This is a collection of those recipes gathered on wonderful occasions and then later cooked at home, with Vincent’s anecdotes and stories included with each one. On the title page it says ‘Famous specialties of the world’s foremost restaurants adapted for the home kitchen.’”

Ian laughed. “How did you remember that?”
“Because I’ve looked at that page hundreds of times!”

Cinnamon Girl, pages 114-115

And two of them go on to make the banana nut bread.

When we held the book launch for Cinnamon Girl last October, I gave away a gift basket containing the book and the tools needed to make the banana nut bread,

vincent cookbookwhich we also served at the party.

banana bread sign

I was very happy when Victoria Price gave me permission to include the banana nut bread recipe in Cinnamon Girl. When I conceived the book I selected recipes from cookbooks I loved that connected with the activity in each chapter. It took months to get the permissions from all of the sources, but Victoria was wonderfully gracious in her response (so was Dorie Greenspan).

In March, when Victoria was passing through on a cross-country road trip, she invited me to lunch at the Orange Squirrel, a restaurant that features annual Vincent Price dinners on Halloween. When I walked in and saw a stack of cookbooks and other books piled on the end of the table, I knew I was with kindred spirits, folks like me who dined with books on the table and an interest in sharing them with each other. Victoria brought a copy of the book with her on her road trip for everyone to sign.

Elaine and Francesco Palimieri signing Victoria Price's copy of the book during our lunch.

Elaine and Francesco Palmieri signing Victoria Price’s copy of the book during our lunch.

We had one of those lunches where the conversation went to a level of intensity immediately, and stayed there. Those who know me would be surprised to know that for much of it I was at a loss for words.

Francesco, Victoria and me at the Orange Squirrel, his restaurant in Bloomfield, NJ.

Francesco, Victoria and me at the Orange Squirrel, his restaurant in Bloomfield, NJ.

Victoria wrote a blog about our get-together, “A Perfect Lunch.”

She invited Francesco, his wife Elaine and me to a “Vincent Price Inspired Evening” which began with cocktails and a slide presentation of Vincent’s life by Victoria at the Viacom building, followed by a dinner party she was hosting at Sardi’s the next night.

Elaine, Francesco and me in front of Sardi's.

Elaine, Francesco and me in front of Sardi’s.

Victoria described the evening with great warmth and love, as a hostess her Dad would have been proud of:

I have never made the dessert Sardi’s is famous for, Boccone Doce (Sweet Mouthful) (page 254). But that night I took one bite and thought it was the best dessert I’ve ever tasted.  The 1965 menu in the book lists it for 85 cents! I am trying to get up the nerve to make it, and will let you know when I do. Maybe for my birthday.

sardis vp dessert


Vincent Price Sardi's3For me, cookbooks represent an invitation to much more than good food and healthy eating. They are a promise of happy times, a challenge to create traditions. As a cookbook that does all that and much more, A Treasury of Great Recipes will always lead the pack. lists it as the fifth most-sought-after hardest-to-find out-of-print book. If you find one somewhere, grab it. I eagerly await the 50th anniversary edition, and encourage you to reserve one here:

Because Edgar Allan Poe’s poems and short stories pervade pop culture and are taught in middle school they are considered by some to be among the lower rungs of the literary canon. That’s a shame. He was the first major American writer to attempt to make a living at writing, and he invented the detective story genre. Some of my favorite writers and thinkers dismissed Edgar Allan Poe. Yeats and Huxley both reportedly called him “vulgar” and upon reading “The Raven” Emerson said, “I see nothing in it.” But Arthur Conan Doyle got him. He said, “Each [of Poe’s detective stories] is a root from which a whole literature has developed….Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?” Poe originated the detective genre in his short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” with the character C. Auguste Dupin who solved crimes in Paris before the word “detective” had been coined.

 Edgar Allan Poe invented some of the major characteristics we know and love in mysteries today—the bumbling police sergeant representing the by-the-book authority figure as opposed to the creative, eccentric but analytically brilliant detective, the first-person narrative by a friend (Watson to Holmes), and the gathering of the suspects together to announce the identity of the murderer that we love so much when Poirot calls everyone to the drawing room.


I don’t advocate marrying one’s 13 year old cousin, but I have been deeply moved by Poe’s love poems to his wife Virginia, especially one written after her death, probably his most famous poem, Annabel Lee. I read this poem for the first time when I was a young romantic pre-teen. In fact, my mother brought me to visit Poe’s Cottage in the Bronx for my twelfth birthday.


At that age the over-the-top portrayal of his love for her (“But we loved with a love that was more than love”) thrilled me. The idea that he missed her so deeply that “And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side/ Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,/ In her sepulchre there by the sea—/ In her tomb by the sounding sea.” Was her tomb really next to the sea? Did he really go and lie down next to it at night? Whether he did or not, this stirred my imagination, they were like Romeo and Juliet. Then, it seemed sweet and romantic, but in my youth I didn’t fully comprehend his suffering. As an adult I do, and I am slightly embarrassed by his angst displayed so openly. But I still love the poem.


I saw the Annabel Lee original manuscript on display when my family visited the Edgar Allen Poe exhibit at the Morgan Library in New York a few months ago.

 As we stood before it, I tormented my teenage son by reading it aloud to him (I knew most of it from memory). Embarrassed, he eyed a man standing next to us within earshot. The man saw what was going on and said, to our surprise and my delight, “My mother used to recite that poem to me all the time when I was young. I loved it.”

In one of the displays at the Morgan I saw a sample of Poe’s signature. I had never examined it closely before, but this time I noticed the circular curls in the way he wrote the letter “E” and rejoiced at the realization that Peter Lo Ricco, who designed the cover for Cinnamon Girl, my mystery novel, unwittingly channeled Poe in his choice of font. I think we’ll keep that font for the Annabel Publishing logo. Yes, the company was named after the poem. And after a beloved cat who was named after the poem.



Cinnamon Girl_Front Cover Crop_Lo-Res_72dpi - Copy

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