What, exactly, is a cozy mystery?

This originally appeared on the very excellent blog, DearReader.com. If you don’t know DearReader, I highly recommend you take a look at it! It’s one of the very best resources for finding new authors and new books to read…


Recently, I was asked to speak on a panel at a writers conference. The topic was “What is a Cozy Mystery?” If you don’t know what a cozy mystery is, welcome to the club. I don’t either, even though, technically, I write them…

I didn’t plan on being a cozy writer. My mother, Blaize Clement, didn’t either. In fact, she didn’t plan on writing cozies until she’d already written one. It was Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter, the first of what became a very popular series set in Siesta Key, a sleepy island off the west coast of Florida. The books follow the adventures of Dixie Hemingway, an ex-sheriff’s deputy turned professional cat sitter, and much like Jessica Fletcher and Miss Marple before her, Dixie has a curious talent for tracking down murderers.

My mother passed away in 2011, just as she was putting the finishing touches on her seventh book. She had asked me to continue the series, and because I’d been taught to mind my mother, that’s exactly what I did. (I wrote about it in a little more detail here.) The eighth book came out last year, the ninth is in stores this month, I’ve just finished final edits on the tenth, and I’m currently hard at work on the eleventh.

The point is: I ought to know what a cozy is by now.

The panel consisted of six authors, all of whom had been chosen because they supposedly write cozies, and all of whom when given half a chance denied it (albeit with varying degrees of certitude). We all agreed that the term “cozy” is just plain terrible, but we did manage to come up with a basic set of rules that defines the genre:

1) The main character is female;
2) She lives in a small, quaint village;
3) She is an amateur sleuth, not a detective or officer of the law;
4) The amount of sex and gore, on a scale of Zero to Zilch, is Nada; and
5) The maximum number of curse words is (see #4).

The problem with all these rules, of course, is that every one of them has been broken, often very successfully and by very successful authors, chief among them Agatha Christie, the grandest of the grandes dames of cozy writers. And while I’ve gotten a few letters accusing me of using certain “naughty” words my mother would never have approved of, she herself broke rules #4 and #5 on a regular basis–way more, in fact, than I have.

But one idea that came up during the panel has stuck with me. It’s that in a really good cozy, the writer creates an intriguing world where, simply put, the reader wants to be–a world you want to go back to again and again and again. A world that feels like home.

I love that idea.

I think it explains the popularity of cozy mysteries perfectly, especially given how uncertain the “real” world feels sometimes, and it’s exactly why I’ve gotten so much joy writing about Dixie. And since I’m now in the habit of thinking like an amateur sleuth on a regular basis, I can’t help but take an even closer look. It occurs to me that I myself am living in an intriguing world created for me by my mother–the world of the cozy writer.

I still don’t know what the heck a cozy is, but it’s a world I’m very, very happy to be in.



10 thoughts on “What, exactly, is a cozy mystery?

  1. Hi John,
    I am very glad you will be continuing the series your mother started. When I heard about your mom’s passing I was very upset, not so much for the family who were left behind, but selfishly for myself as I would miss Dixie in a big way. For some reason, I am reading a lot of cozies lately and the Dixie Hemingway series are my favourites so far. I just recently reread all from the beginning of the series and I have learned so much about dogs, cats, parrots and lizards in doing so. I was a little skeptical reading the first book you did on your own, but it didn’t miss a beat from the writing of the others, so I thank you for that. I am eagerly awaiting the other two you have planned so far. Good luck and I’ll keep reading them!
    Thanks again,
    Moe Flanagan

    • Moe, I feel the same way… it’s funny how much information my mom managed to slip into the books about animals and animal care, and yet you don’t really notice it because it always has something to do with the story… and thanks for your kind words. That means a lot to me!
      All my best,

  2. Hi Moe,
    Thank you for writing and for your kind words. It means a lot to me when readers who’ve known the series for years still feel like they can hear my mom’s voice. That’s something I tried really hard to do in THE CAT SITTER’S CRADLE… sometimes in fact it feels like she’s just dictating to me (but I should probably not say that too often for fear they’ll come take me away in a straight jacket). I hope you’ll love THE CAT SITTER’S NINE LIVES just as much. Please keep in touch and happy reading!
    All my Best,

  3. I guess that I love a cozy, because I love me some Dixie Hemingway Mysteries. I get so wrapped up in the story and before I know it, it is over. I am not a big reader so please know this IS a compliment, lol!

  4. John: I echo Moe’s sentiments above. I also was very distressed when I heard of your Mother’s death. That must have been very difficult for you. Having grown up in Florida, I have visited the area around Sarasota and found it a wonderful place. Finding your Mother’s books was like going home, especially since we no longer live near the beach. You’ve done a masterful job of capturing Dixie in The Cat Sitter’s Cradle and I now can look forward to more “Dixie” books!! Yea!!!

  5. Hello,

    I just stumbled across this post unexpectedly while browsing the net …and I hope it’s fine if I comment here…!

    First of all let me say that I LOVE to read, as it’s a source of immense happiness for me …and my favourite genre is “Cozy Mystery”…!

    Though I must admit that I have been reading this genre even before I was aware that such a term existed 🙂

    However, over the years I have compiled a huge list of what I think make a proper and good cozy mystery …though I won’t go into it now (if you are interested then maybe you can check out my blog) …but I just wanted to mention that your words: 

    “…in a really good cozy, the writer creates an intriguing world where, simply put, the reader wants to be–a world you want to go back to again and again and again…”

    captures the essence of several of the points that are included in my definition. 

    Its perfectly true that this creation of a wonderful world …where the atmosphere is designed to give comfort and pleasure …and where the positive characters become our greatest friends and make their way into our hearts through qualities like compassion, decency,  loyalty, integrity, humour, intelligence etc …is one of the main reasons why readers faithfully follow a certain mystery series…! 

    Thank you for putting my points so beautifully in such a concise way.

    Just reading this post has made me want to try out your books …which unfortunately I haven’t as read…

    In any case, it’s always a pleasure for me to discover ‘new-to-me’ authors and to add their books to my TBR list …and I am really looking forward to reading both your mother’s and your books 🙂

    Thanks again,

    Ramla Zareen

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