Just What Makes A Mystery “Cozy”?

Just What Makes A Mystery “Cozy”?
Jessic Fletcher's Cabot Cove--AKA Mendocino California

If it’s Friday, I must be talking about books.  Last week, I discussed the genre of gay romance, but this week, let’s get real.  My guilty pleasure, when it comes to reading, comes down to the genre known as Cozy Mystery.  What, exactly, makes a mystery “cozy”?  I know you’re asking that.  I ask it all the time.  The fact is that I started reading “cozy mysteries” long before I ever heard the term.  

For the most part, the cozy mystery protagonist is female, usually well educated, usually single, almost always a business owner.  She may own a bookstore, a bakery, a bed and breakfast.  She almost always has a best friend who helps her get into trouble.  And she’s very likeable.  Cozy mysteries, as a rule, have no sexual shenanigans nor “adult” language.  You could read one out loud to your Southern Baptist grannie.  One particular sub-genre I enjoy are the cozy mysteries with recipes.  These are sometimes called “culinary mysteries.”  Listed below are four of my favorite authors.

Diane Mott Davidson

One of my early favorite reads were the Goldy Bear books by Diane Mott Davidson. Goldy Schulz, née Bear, is a caterer living in a ritzy community in the mountains west of Denver. Davidson has written (to date) seventeen books in this series, all with titles that include a food related pun. The first in the series came out in 1990 titled Catering to Nobody. Dying for Chocolate followed in 1993, The Cereal Murders in 1994, and thereafter almost one book a year up to 2013’s The Whole Enchilada. My Librarything catalog lists 13 of the 17 books, but I remain convinced that most of the other four are hiding in the boxes I have not yet catalogued.

Interstate 70 Heading West from Denver

Each of these cozy mysteries include recipes (up to a dozen per book). In 2015, in response to reader requests, Davidson published Goldy’s Kitchen Cookbook, a cookbook in the form of memoir. Sandra Dallas reviewed the book in the Denver Post. Should you want to jump into Goldy’s life, Amazon.com has a listing for all seventeen books as mass market paperbacks. You can buy the collection as new books for a mere $1,012.90 plus $3.00 shipping. Should that seem a bit pricey, you can get a used set in good condition starting at $78.38. And to give you a taste (pun intended) of what makes a (Davidson) mystery “cozy,” today’s Recipe of the Day comes from Goldy’s Kitchen. Actually, you get a bonus in that the recipe link goes to a page where the recipes from Davidson’s first four books are all printed out. Enjoy!

Nancy Fairbanks

Nancy Fairbanks is another cozy mystery writer who combines stories with recipes. In her books, the protagonist is a syndicated food writer, Carolyn Blue. Carolyn travels the world with her scientist husband, and writes about local food. Of course, someone nearby dies, and Carolyn just has to help the authorities find the killer. Like Davidson, Fairbanks uses food-related puns for her titles. She wrote eleven cozy mysteries between 2001 and 2009. I have not been able to find anything since then. Most of her books get 3 1/2 stars on Goodreads and 4 on Amazon.

The first Carolyn Blue novel was Crime Brulée which came out in 2001. Truffled Feathers followed, also in 2001, and Death à L’Orange in 2002. Her most recent book is Blood Pudding which appeared in 2009. Of her eleven Carolyn Blue novels, I hold seven in my personal library, all mass market paperbacks. Guess I need to buy another 4.

Tamar Myers

Tamar Myers draws on her Amish background to set the scene in her Pennsylvania Dutch mysteries. Her twenty-one book series began with Too Many Crooks Spoil the Broth (1993). Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Crime and No Use Dying Over Spilled Milk followed in 1995 and 1996. Her most recent book in the Pennsylvania Dutch series came out in 2019, Puddin’ On The Blitz. Myers is upfront (literally) in admitting the recipes scattered through the text are not hers.

In the Acknowledgments for her 2004 Thou Shalt Not Grill she states: “I’m a lousy cook. However, it is my pleasure to share the recipes included in this book.” She then adds the names of the actual sources for the recipes. Similarly, in her 2007 Hell Hath No Curry, she acknowledges “All the recipes in this book are authentic and were supplied by my dear friend Shabnam Mahmood.” Myers also dedicates the book to Mahmood and her family. Of the twenty-one Pennsylvania Dutch mysteries, I have ten catalogued in my LibraryThing catalog.

Pennsylvania Welcomes You, Mr. Miller

Tamar Myers’ Humor

Myers’ books are great fun. Her protagonist, Magdalena Yoder, runs the Penn Dutch Inn. Magdalena takes great pride in offering “authentic” Pennsylvania Dutch atmosphere, which can even mean the guests pay extra to make their own beds. Magdalena herself is not Amish. She’s Mennonite. She wears “sturdy Christian underwear” and her cousin Freni, who is Amish, is her chief cook. They live in the Amish-Mennonite community of Hernia, Pennsylvania. Hernia is small enough, and intermarried enough, that everyone knows everyone else’s business. The opening two sentences of Hell Hath No Curry read like a stand-up comedian’s shtick. “It was the best of crimes; it was the worst of crimes. Cornelius Weaver had everything going for him–except a pulse.” The rest of the book follows in that vein.

Leslie Budewitz

I found Leslie Budewitz’s Death Al Dente at the Kalispell, Montana Costco. As is common with cozy mysteries, it had a colorful cover with a large gold sticker. The sticker read “Local Author,” and sure enough, the cover looked like a shop in Bigfork, Montana, posed for the illustration. Set in Jewel Bay, Montana (read Bigfork), Death Al Dente centers on Erin Murphy, the manager of her family’s Mercantile. And of course, someone dies. Remember, in a mystery, someone has to die, and the finger usually points toward the protagonist or a close family member.

I loved Death Al Dente, and found its local descriptions very accurate. Budewitz captures Bigfork well. The book won the 2013 Agatha Award for best first novel. Four more novels followed in the Food Lovers Village series, and another five in the Spice Shop Mysteries series. Bigfork Montana is the “Food Lovers Village,” and the titular Spice Shop is in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Budewitz knows both locales intimately, as she studied law and practiced in Seattle before returning to her native Montana.

Bridge Over the Swan River, Bigfork, Montana

Guest Site of the Day

I really don’t need to define “cozy mystery.” If you don’t find the term self-explanatory, just check out today’s Guest Site, The Cozy Mystery Blog. When I found this site, I questioned whether I should even take on the topic. Then I decided, “Nutz! I have my own take on the subject, and my own favorite writers.” That said, Danna, the Cozy Mystery List Lady, has a great site, and anyone interested in the topic will find it full of useful information. My one quibble is that in her alphabetic list of authors, she will often name an author and add “not cozy.” If David Baldacci is “not cozy,” why is he on the list? But hey, it’s Danna’s site, not mine. She can do what she wants.

Recipe of the Day

As I mentioned above, today’s Recipe is actually a compilation of thirty-nine recipes. They have been culled from Diane Mott Davidson’s first four cozy mysteries. It’s handy having these all in one place, as most look scrumptious. I can’t wait to make the Crustless Jarlsberg Quiche, and the Mexican Pizza sounds great. Who am I kidding, they all sound great.

Video of the Day

This morning I was happy to find Spencer, AKA Intentionally Bookish.  Spencer has a youtube channel where she talks about, what else, Books.  Today’s choice is in her Cozy Up To series, specifically cozy mysteries set in tea houses or coffee shops.  She starts right out with Death by Darjeeling by Laura Childs.  While I don’t have that novel in my library, I do have Childs’ The English Breakfast Murder.  Yes, there is a whole series of books with titles based on types of tea, 21 in total.  Spencer talks with great fervor about five different books set in tea or coffee houses, and it’s clear she really loves the genre.  I’ve now subscribed to her channel and I look forward to her comments on other books of interest.

And so, to close…

In today’s video, Spencer suggests that a cozy mystery should induce the reader to curl up, have a cup of some hot beverage, and enjoy the whole experience. With that in mind, I think I’ll grab a cup of tea (Darjeeling today), and retire to my recliner with a good book.

Full Disclosure: The book titles in blue above are linked to my Amazon Associates account, and if you click on a book, then buy that book, Amazon will give me a few pennies from what you pay them. Go on, you know you want to buy all those books listed above, don’t you!

The Editorial Calendar says that tomorrow is “Open,” but at this point I’m leaning toward continuing to write about the dogs in my life, maybe The MinPin Years. Stay tuned, grab yourself a cup of tea, or coffee, or even Mexican chocolate, and get lost in a cozy mystery. BUT, before you go, please leave me a comment below and subscribe above if you like what I’m doing here.

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2 Comments on “Just What Makes A Mystery “Cozy”?

  1. Thank you, Bryan, and thanks for the lovely mention in your column. I can’t tell you how many readers I’ve met at festivals, like the Festival of the Arts here in Bigfork, who say of my books “oh, are they like–” but they can’t come up with the name, and when I say “Diane Mott Davidson?,” they immediately say “yes, yes!” And I appreciate the shout-out for Laura Childs, the pen name of my cousin! Happy reading!

    • Thank you, Leslie,for your very kind response to my blog post. I wouldn’t have mentioned either you or your cousin if I hadn’t enjoyed your books so much. I look forward to reading many more in the future.

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