Since I’m back in the traditional mystery business – my first Aurora Teagarden novel in years, ALL THE LITTLE LIARS, will be out Oct. 4 – I’ve been reading more in the subgenre.
A lot of non-cozy readers tend to think that this branch of mystery is the Polly Pureheart of the industry. There’s no blood, or sex, or even brains. The protagonist, usually a woman, is compelled by a power beyond reason to investigate crimes without the slightest qualification . . . and she solves these crimes because the police simply can’t come up with the explanation our heroine can.
Let me pick this apart. There are all kinds of traditional mysteries on the shelves now. Some rely on a gimmick – an occupation, a pet, a quirky town – to act as a hook for the book, but the book has to be a readable novel. Thrillers, which also rely on a hook (Jesus was married! An enemy country has a plague bomb!) are a standard on every bookshelf.
The amount of blood and sex depend on the writer. There are some squeaky clean mysteries, and there’s certainly an audience for them. There are some that hint at sex and have some violence. And then there are those that have both, but generally not explicitly. Again, the writer is using his/her own taste to guide the book, and the right reader will usually find the right book.
The third charge (an unqualified amateur puts the police to shame) is a little harder to rebut. Nine times out of ten, the protagonist is a botanist, wedding planner, or dog groomer . . . but she has a personal stake in solving the mystery. And she has access to some information that the police don’t have. I think the trick there lies in making the protagonist likeable and warm, and making the solution to the murder compelling. I know we’ve all read books where we felt the heroine was TDTL (too dumb to live). But then, I don’t believe concussed private eyes leave their hospital beds to solve a case from which they’ve been fired, either.
I have read some wonderful cozy mysteries lately, with protagonists I really liked, plots that had unexpected twists, and a completely credible reason for the main character to be involved in the denouement. So I’m defending something that doesn’t really need a defense!
Books of the Week:
- The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
- Deceptions by Kelley Armstrong
- A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn
- Company Town by Madeline Ashby
I’m very excited about Alexandra Oliva’s first book, The Last One. A young married woman decides to participate in a reality show, very, very much like “Survivor.” Her code name on the show is Zoo, because she volunteers at one. But the game doesn’t go as anyone planned. None of the isolated contestants know it, but a pandemic is sweeping through the country, and all their cameramen and producers – and doctors and rescue teams – are dead. Zoo, alone, continues forward, still searching for planted clues to her destination and reward. This is really a book you can’t put down.
Kelley Armstrong is one of my favorite writers, and her name on the cover is a guarantee that you have a good book in your hands. Deceptions is the third Cainsville novel, an extension of the adventures of Olivia Taylor-Jones, who has discovered she is the child of notorious serial killers. She’s taken refuge in the town of Cainsville, where very little is as it seems, but she’s formed some friendships and gained a lover and a job. She has also begun to see visions, and none of them are pleasant. She’s important to the supernatural world in a way she has yet to fully understand. It’s better to read the other two books before you plunge into this one, because Armstrong doesn’t tell backstory.
A Curious Beginning is a Victorian-set mystery by Deanna Raybourn. The unconventional Miss Veronica Speedwell is left alone in the world when her aunt dies, and she is determined to make her own living. When she returns from the funeral to find her house has been searched, she doesn’t believe the crime is personal; but a German baron, an Irishman, and a natural historian, all become involved in the trouble that surrounds Veronica. I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and I think most readers will, too. Veronica surprises at every turn.
Madeline Ashby’s Company Town is described as “a thrilling near-future noir mystery” and that says it all. Hwa, a fighter and bodyguard, does not have any body enhancements, which makes her a freak in the world of drilling rig on which she lives. But she’s a great bodyguard, nonetheless, and the powerful Lynch family hires her to train and protect their scion. Hwa, used to being a pariah, finds her life changing as a result of her change of job, but an invisible killer soon challenges everything she is trying to protect. A fascinating book from a writer with great vision.