Last week in New Year, New Genre, I gave you a list of romance novels to help you broaden your reading horizons in 2016. The decision to do this came from the awkward realisation that, in 30 years of reading, I’ve never actually read any crime (you can read the full explanation here). It’s a bit of an embarrassment considering the nature of my job, in which many, many different books pass through my hands each month. I even play a small part in helping these books find their way onto bookstore shelves and into your hands. I read a lot, but still, I’ve never read/finished any crime, romance, fantasy, chick-lit… I haven’t, in all truth, ever really read much genre fiction at all (save the odd bit of lesbian pulp fiction that I absolutely only read for its *important historical relevance*. Ahem). Anyway, in case there are other readers who, equally, haven’t ‘gotten round’ to reading a particular genre, and in case anyone else feels they ought to, I’ll be picking a few books over these next couple of weeks to help you along the way.
This week, it’s cosy crime time…
As Long As It Has a Cat in It
Although cosy crime started with Agatha Christie, it has evolved into a much more varied beast. The kind of English-village murder at a post-office or a village fete is still a popular story, one that will sell plenty of books. But on the back of this we now have bloodless murders happening all over the place; in craft beer breweries, in sewing shops, in tattoo parlours and bookstores. In contemporary cosies, our amateur-sleuth protagonists range from boutique store owners to librarians to witches to psychics. And – importantly – they pretty much always have a cat that helps them solve a crime.
The cosy trend, as written about in the Guardian, mostly comes from America. But it’s gaining in popularity across the Atlantic, too. Maybe some people are getting sick of reading about really grisly crimes, the kind that (most of the time) involve a female victim and a load of blood and other terrible things. Maybe readers are enjoying the tongue-in-cheek escapism that comes with a cosy. Or maybe readers are just incredibly fond of a bad pun. Whatever the reason, there has been an influx of cosy series landing in bookstores over the last year or so.
Wikipedia defines a cosy mystery as “a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community.” Cozy-mystery.com calls them a “fun read that engages the mind…fast-paced, with lots of twists and turns.” The protagonist is usually a woman with a penchant for amateur sleuthing, and the crimes – which happen off-stage – usually involve some kind of horror-free death such as poisoning or smothering. I say horror-free in relation to gorier, blood-and-guts crimes; in reality, I don’t imagine being poisoned or smothered is much fun.
Raymond Chandler hated cosies, calling their readers those “who like their murders scented with magnolia blossoms and do not care to be reminded that murder is an act of infinite cruelty.” He’s got a point, but that hasn’t stopped the cosy trend growing. Every month it seems new sleuths are invented and weird murders solved. Given their increasing popularity, it might transpire that you, unlike Raymond, really actually like a cosy mystery! So for the purpose of helping you find a new love, here’s my pick of the best cosy crime books from the Turnaround vault.
Note – all of these books are parts of (sometimes long) series, and are not necessarily the first in that series. I just picked them for their use of pun/covers.
A maple syrup salesman meets an untimely death. Was it an accident? Minnie and her cat investigate.
Springtime in Chilson, Michigan is librarian Minnie Hamilton’s favourite time of year: maple syrup season! But her excitement fades when her favourite syrup provider, Henry Gill, dies in a sugaring accident. It’s tough news to swallow…even if the old man wasn’t as sweet as his product.
On the bookmobile rounds with her trusty rescue cat Eddie, Minnie meets Adam, the old man’s friend, who was with him when he died. Adam is convinced Henry’s death wasn’t an accident, and fears that his own life is in danger.
With the police overworked, it’s up to Minnie and Eddie to tap all their resources for clues – before Adam ends up in a sticky situation.
Verdict: This cosy has such a winning premise. Not only does it feature a cat… it also features books!
Abby’s wedding and her fiancé are in danger and she’s racing to catch a criminal with only a ghost for help.
Wedding bells are ringing for psychic Abigail Cooper. But her senses are tingling that her fiancé, Dutch, is in danger. And he’s not the only one. On her wedding day, Abby’s a ticking time bomb.
It’s said to be good luck if it rains on your wedding day, but Abby sees something darker than storm clouds on the horizon. She’s just had a disturbing premonition of her fiancé’s murder. Her husband-to-be has been assigned to a case involving a series of bombings and Abby’s spirit guides warn her of imminent danger.
FBI agent Dutch Rivers is keeping his cool, but Abby can’t quell her anxiety. After another bombing at a local beauty salon, Abby vows to do everything in her power to keep Dutch safe and get him to the altar. But on the morning of the ceremony, she finds herself in a dire situation, with time running out.
Verdict: Guys, this is a cosy crime series written by an actual REAL LIFE PSYCHIC. It gets extra points for that alone. It’s also considered a paranormal cosy, which adds points for specificity.
The quiet lives of a librarian and her two cats are turned upside down when a murder comes to town.
When an art exhibition comes to the library, it’s up to Kathleen to deal with all the hassle that comes with it, mainly in the form of people: the overworked and exasperated curator, the too-charming security expert and the owners of the valuable historical sketch that is the centrepiece of the show.
But when the curator turns up dead in Kathleen’s office and the valuable sketch vanishes, her magical cats Owen and Hercules have to turn to the art section of their detection skills to help Kathleen solve the murder.
As Kathleen and her detective boyfriend Marcus investigate, they discover that there’s more intrigue around the sketch then they could have expected, from forgeries to famous art thieves to high tech security. Marcus, Kathleen and her cats have to hunt down the real killer – before justice becomes history.
Verdict: Again, cats! Books! A terrible pun! This one has pretty much every element of a modern day cosy down to a tee.
When Max opens up a new craft beer pub, her assistant brewmaster winds up dead.
Maxine ‘Max’ O’Hara is preparing to open her own craft brew pub in a newly revitalized section of Pittsburgh. But there’s trouble on tap.
Suspicious acts of sabotage culminate in Max finding her assistant brewmaster and chef strangled in one of the vats.
If someone is desperate enough to kill to stop her from opening, Max needs to act fast – before her brand-new brew biz totally tanks…
Verdict: Cosy crime for hipsters! Everything about this one is excellent – the cat, the beer, the very awful puns. Extra points for the protagonist with the androgynous name.
Some ‘magic’ coffee beans lead amateur sleuth Clare into a dark and (slightly) dangerous world.
Fairy tale fever has descended on New York City. Broadway fans are flocking to Red Riding Hood: The Musical; museums are exhibiting art inspired by the Brothers Grimm; and Clare Cosi gives her coffee truck a “Jack and the Beanstalk” makeover for a Central Park festival.
Clare’s coffee hunter ex-husband contributes a bag of African beans with alleged magical properties. His octogenarian mother entertains customers with readings of the grinds, but Clare remains sceptical – until she receives a vision that helps her find a young model’s body in the park’s woods.
The police dismiss ‘sleeping beauty’ as the victim of a drug overdose. Then Clare uncovers evidence that points to a roster of suspects, from a wolf of Wall Street to a New York Giant and a wicked witch of the West Side.
Now Clare is really in the woods – with a dangerous predator on her heels and an investigation that leads from a secret Prince Charming club right back to her own NYPD detective boyfriend. If she doesn’t solve this mystery, those magic beans predict an unhappy ending.
Verdict: From what I can tell, Cleo Coyle is something of a superhero in the cosy crime world. By that I mean she is VERY popular and has been on all kinds of bestseller lists. But that aside, who doesn’t like an amateur sleuth who is also a barista? Also: bad pun. Also: this books actually includes recipes. A+.
There’s been a murder in Vermont. Can Dirk, the ghost of a fourteenth century Scottish highlander, really help Peggy solve the crime?
While on a transatlantic hunt for some authentic wares to sell at her Scottish-themed shop, Peggy is looking to forget her troubles by digging through the hidden treasures of the Scottish Highlands. With so many enchanting items on sale, Peggy can’t resist buying a beautiful old tartan shawl. But once she wraps it around her shoulders, she discovers that her purchase comes with a hidden fee: the spectre of a fourteenth-century Scotsman.
Now back in Vermont with her dog and spirit friend Dirk, Peggy is at her wits end trying to keep the ghost in line. Being thrust into the modern world hasn’t been east on him. Damn that magic shawl. Business is booming, but with Dirk to deal with there is no time to celebrate.
Peggy’s ‘easy life’ in her Scotshop becomes even more complicated when the local police find the body of her friend Karaline’s college professor. He is discovered in a deserted mountain cabin, murdered.
Everyone is thrown for a loop. It seems the secretive professor may have been killed over his ecological work, an idea that’s only reinforced when Karaline herself is shot. Now, Peggy and Dirk must set aside their differences to put the cold-blooded killer under ‘loch’ and key…
Verdict: Features a friendly sleuthing highlander ghost named Dirk who came out of a MAGIC SHAWL. That sums it up fine.
So… are you any more tempted to pick up a cosy crime novel? Because I definitely am. To have a look at other cosy crime titles distributed by Turnaround, head over to the crime page on our website.
And be sure to look out for New Year, New Genre: Part III: Street Lit, coming next week.