Friday, February 25, 2011

Just Wondering: Can a man write a good cozy mystery?

Because the day was so grim, gray and melted snowy, rainy sloppy, I am thinking a good cozy mystery would just hit the spot. (Reading one now, but I need, well...a cozy back-up.) As I'm cruising through my book shelves looking for something appropriately comforting, I notice that, among my 'cozies', there don't seem to be many male writers.

I wonder why that is. Aren't men capable of writing 'comforting' type words? Of course they are. But maybe cozy mysteries require something more than comfortable words. They require a good mystery yes, but they require a certain kind of mystery atmosphere with the murders mostly happening off-stage. But it's the atmosphere that makes for a cozy, I think. At least my kind of cozy. But, surely, men are capable of creating comforting atmosphere and a few 'not in your face' murders.

Let me double check my shelves once more.

Okay, bingo! These men come close. (So the answer to my initial question is yes, but rarely.)

The late Stuart Kaminsky with his Toby Peters private eye mysteries set mostly in and among the quirky movie people of 1940's Los Angeles. Favorite title? Mildred Pierced. Yes, it features Joan Crawford as a murder suspect/actress in distress. Funny.

Ed Gorman with his Sam McCain series set in 1950's small town Iowa. Each title is the name of a rock and roll song of the times. i.e. Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.

Parnell Hall with his Stanley Hastings private eye series set mostly in NYC and also his crossword puzzle lady mysteries. (Full disclosure: I read and love the Stanley Hastings series, but don't read the Puzzle Lady series, possibly because I dislike crossword puzzles.)

Jeffrey Cohen with his wonderful series featuring Aaron Tucker, small town NJ magazine writer and solver of myseries. Also his Elliott Freed movie theater mysteries, set in NJ. One title: For Whom the Minivan Rolls.

Alan Bradley with his multi-award series set in 1950's England and featuring a 12 year old protagonist is the closest to the perfect male cozy writer as I can come. No, not close. He is a male cozy writer, period.

Alexander McCall Smith (I've only read The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency, but that qualifies for sure.) So, okay, so there are some who are DEFINITELY writing cozies.

Peter Abrahams (Writing the quirky Echo Falls mysteries.) Yup, definitely cozies. Though not as 'warm' as I would ordinarily like a cozy to be.

These seven series all have one thing in common: humor. Three are private eye series, one - the Sam McCain series, might as well be. Sam is a small town lawyer who solves murders almost against his will. Jeff's two heroes are a freelance writer and a theater owner. Flavia de Luce, Bradley's solver of mysteries, is a budding chemist. In Echo Falls, it's mostly the high school kids who solve the mysteries.

(There's also EJ Copperman, whose NJ cozy I read last year and loved. Not sure if EJ is a man or woman, though since Copperman is a pseudonym. My suspicion is that Copperman is a man.)

But that's it, cozy writer-wise, for the male population currently living on my bookshelves. And really, except for Peter Abrahams, Alan Bradley and Alexander McCall Smith, the others are 'almost' cozies. Not 100 percent sure they qualify. As much as I love these books, they are not what I reach for when I need a 'comfortable' mystery read. What do you think about all this? Do you read cozies? When and where? Must a cup of tea be nearby? Men and cozy cups of tea....not so much. I mean, men drink tea, yes. But, you know what I mean. I like my tea with butter cookes, little crackers with slices of cheese and a strawberry or two. A man usually sneers at this sort of thing. HA!
In contrast here are the women writers all but pushing Stuart, Parnell, Alan, Alexander, Peter, Ed and Jeff off my bookshelves. The following are all read by yours truly and safely vouched for:

  • Agatha Christie (A golden age Dame, but I consider her Queen of the Cozy Mystery even if some of the murders are rather ugly. The Jane Marple mysteries especially, qualify as cozy.)
  • Dorothy L. Sayers ( The Peter Wimsy myseries.Though Sayers is probably turning in her grave over the word 'cozy'.)
  • Nancy Bell (Gotta' love these Miss Biggie mysteries set in small town Texas. Narrator is 12 year old boy.)
  • Charlane Harris (Before the vampires and undead set in, there was librarian Aurora Teagarden.)
  • Susan Moody ( Mysteries set in the world of English Bridge Tournament play. Hard to find, but worth the effort.)
  • Katherine Hall Page (Mysteries set in various localities, but mainly small town Massachusettes. The mystery solver is caterer and minister's wife Faith Fairchild.)
  • Emily Richards (Another series featuring a minister's wife solving mysteries. What is it with these minsters and their wives? Murder seems to follow them around.)
  • Georgette Heyer (Yup, as well as her Regency stuff, she wrote a terrific bunch of mysteries.)
  • Elizabeth Daly (Supposedly Agatha Christie's favorite writer.)
  • Mary Roberts Rinehart (Another Golden Ager. I'm currently reading THE YELLOW ROOM and loving it to pieces.)
  • Elizabeth Peters (Not strictly cozy settings. But I defy anyone NOT to call the Amelia Peabody books cozies. Even if they take place mostly in Egypt.)
  • Jo Dereske (The Miss Zukas mysteries mostly set in and around libraries.)
  • Elaine Flinn (Antiques and murder in, if I remember correctly, California.)
  • Diana Killian (Murder among antiques dealers in the lake district of England.)
  • Jincy Willett (Loved her debut: The Writing Class. Waiting for more.)
  • Lisa Lutz (The loony Spellman clan and their various mysteries.)
  • Laurie R. King (Holmes and Russell. These excellent books take up where Conan Doyle left off. These are 'borderline' cozies though since they do not have a light tone.)
  • Josephine Tey (A brilliant Golden Ager who wrote at least two classics of the genre. Also not known for her lightness.)
  • Ngaio Marsh (A Golden Ager, another creator of borderline cozies since many of her murders are gruesome and not light. But for me, she qualifies.)
  • M.M. Kaye who wrote some terrific romantic adventure novels, only some of them 'cozy' in nature. (I have an anthology of them and love these books written in the 30's/40's, mostly set in places that don't even exist anymore as Kaye envisioned them.)
  • MC. Beaton's Hamish MacBeth series set in the Scottish Highlands. (I think Beaton is a woman.)
And these are only names of the ones I've read. There are many others who qualify as cozy writers out there, I just haven't gotten around to reading them.

The main thing that must happen when I think of a cozy read is this: I must smile. A cozy, above all else, must evoke a smile. Maybe a smile of recognition. A smile that leads to a warmth of rememberance and the promise of comfortable company and a good, well written story. That's it.
Maybe it's just that most writers write to their audience and most males, let's face it, probably don't read cozies. More than likely spy thrillers are to men what cozies are to women. Agreed?

Maybe it's just a girl thing.


  1. Glad you like Alexander McCall Smith - I love the Ladies Detective Agency series, which are EXTREMELY cozy, gentle and warm.

    Here's another name to consider: L. C. Tyler, of "The Herring-Seller's Apprentice" and two more (so far). Like some of the others, I'd have to say borderline cozy - but they're quite funny, if unusual, and nice satires of traditional mysteries.

  2. Les: I've been hearing good things about L.C. Tyler's Herring books. I must locate them at the library. (My task for next week.) Thanks for the reminder.

    What did you think of Alan Bradley's books? Cozies - no?

  3. I'm ashamed to admit I still haven't read them, although I hear very good things about them. "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" has won a lot of major awards and I really do have to move it up the tottering to-be-read pile.

  4. As good as SWEETNESS (Yes, it's swept the awards, that's for sure.)AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE is, I loved the second book in the series even more: THE WEED THAT STRINGS THE HANGMAN'S BAG.

    I run out of superlatives for these books.

    The amazing things about this series: First, that it was written by a man. Second, that it was written by a man of a 'certain' age, third, SWEETNESS was his debut book.

    Go figure.

  5. Yvette: Another male author for your consideration: Edmund Crispin. I'd put him in the cozy category. Very British humor...and fun. His lead character Gervase Fen is just that...quite a character.

    And possibly Cyril Hare and Leo Bruce as well. Both wrote very comfortable reads and Bruce wrote a lovely send-up of Golden Age detectives in his Case With Three Detectives.

  6. Bev: I have a copy of THE MOVING TOYSHOP here that I've been meaning to read. Can't say yay or nay since I've never read Crispin's work, just heard about it. Sounds like it might fit under the suddenly HUGE Cozy Umbrella, maybe.

    I've not read the other two names you mentioned either. But you remind me that James Anderson also wrote some nice (and very funny) send-ups of murder in the English countryouse. THE AFFAIR OF THE MUTILATED MINK COAT and THE AFFAIR OF THE BLOOD STAINED EGG COSY. Both books are total hoots.

    But I'm having second thoughts about counting this sort of book precisely because they are satirical 'looks' primarily at Agatha Christie's work.

  7. I never thought of it in this way so good post

  8. Thanks, Mystica. I'm so glad you liked my post. I love cozy mysteries. ;)

  9. Thanks for all of the suggestions; I'm gearing up for Mystery March and I need to lighter fare to counteract the heavy books my parents have lent me.

  10. Lisa: It's always good to counteract what your parents lend you. :) You can read one 'heavy' book and one 'light', one 'heavy', one 'light'. How's that? Sounds like a plan. ;)

    Mystery March: sounds good.

  11. I don't read many cozies, but I love the Spellmans, and I like Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes.

    And I have not read, but have seen the dvd's of the tv series on Alexander McCall Smith's series, which I adored.

    There are a few here I'd like to try. Although I am not a fan of violence, gore, and all that goes with it, I have found many books which deal with character development, a good plot and story--and puzzle--and violence off the page.

    I want to try the Herring series by L.C. Tyler, and Alan Bradley's books.

  12. What a great list! I love "cosy" (murder) mysteries, I'm going to jot down some of these authors to look out for (women and men ;)
    Thanks! xx

  13. Kathy: Cozy is as 'cozy' does, in my book. A few of the ones I liste I just KNOW you'd like. I am definitely going to try the 'Herring' series. I'm hearing a lot of good things about them.

    Alan Bradley's books are wonderful and quirky and somewhat sad, but funny at the same time. You'll love them.

  14. Rachel: I'm glad you found somthing in the lists to like. :) Lots of good books here. I've always loved 'cozies' but I think I have a broader definition of them than most.

  15. A lot of the earlier British male writers veered near cozy I think. Nicholas Blake and Robert Barnard would be two.

  16. You like Robert Crais; he's not a cozy writer exactly.

  17. Patti: Yes, good choices. I was thinking about that very thing. But at the same time, I don't, necessarily go to these books when I'm 'thinking' to read a cozy. They did veer closely though, you're right. Jeez, Patti, I haven't read Barnard in so many years. Blake, I only read one and truth be known, I didn't love it.

  18. Kathy: Oh, Robert Crais and Lee Child are NO WHERE NEAR being cozies. And yet I read and love them. I am an eclectic reader, that's for sure. ;)

  19. Yes, eclectic! That's a good thing, lots out there to enjoy.

    "Faithful Place" by Tana French is a lot of things, a police procedural, a novel about Ireland, about an Irish family, a dysfunctional one, about the economic crisis, and much of it--a love story about love lost years before. It actually has brought tears to my eyes as the story and characters are so real.

  20. Can we get an annotated program guide from your website? Then we (I) can just go to the library web site with the book and movie lists, with stars and ratings...! No muss, no fuss!

  21. Kathy: Ha! Yvette's guide to the world of books and film. Sounds good to me. ;)

    I'll take a look at the French book.


Your comment will appear after I take a look.