My Surefire Bestseller Cozy Mystery Idea
Have you ever taken a long trip to a completely foreign place where you’ve spent weeks treating your taste buds to one exotic surprise after another? And then comes the day when you turn a corner and find a Burger King. You look around to make sure nobody sees you, and then… in you go. There’s just something so inexpressibly comforting about knowing exactly what you’ll get, the sure and certain knowledge that whatever the outside landscape holds, that burger and fries will taste the same as it does back in the mall at home.
That’s what I love about reading a cozy mystery. I see a cover in ice cream colors with a cupcake or a cat, and I know the tropes I’ll find inside:
- The sleuth will be an amateur, of course, and (these days) almost definitely a woman. She won’t want to get involved—unless she’s elderly and knits—but she will investigate anyway.
- Her sidekick will be slightly less intelligent than the reader, but endearing nonetheless. Bonus points if Sidekick is gay, fashion-conscious, and owns small dogs.
- The action will take place in a familiar place, preferably a small village in England so adorably twee it couldn’t possibly exist outside of a Thomas Kinkade painting or Hobbit Shire.
- Regular recurring characters will include a local member of the police and medical communities, each of whom will grumble but continue to supply information in violation of any and all conceivable policies to the contrary.
- Wherever Amateur Sleuth goes, bodies pile up offstage, but actual blood/bodily fluids are kept to a minimum. (Same goes for sex, actually.)
- Clues and red herrings are scattered liberally in Amateur’s path, but the writer makes sure the audience has all clues to solve the crime alongside Amateur.
- There will be cats. Probably cupcakes. Occasionally, knitting.
- There will not be swearing. (Except for the very occasional “bloody” and “damn”, of course.)
And then there’s the trope definer herself: Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, the quintessential little old lady amateur detective with her knitting, or her spiritual heir, Murder She Wrote‘s Jessica Fletcher with her catch phrase, “I couldn’t help but notice…”
For four minutes that perfectly capture the cozy mystery genre, see the beginning of The Mirror Crack’d, a 1980 movie which opens with Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple, watching an old movie in St. Mary Mead’s village hall. When the film breaks, she gets up to leave, solving the entire crime for her mystified fellow villagers as she makes her way to the door.
[Stop me if I digress into useless trivia. Just try… The rest of the movie, by the way, includes fabulous overacting by almost every slightly-past-it star wandering the backlots of Hollywood. It even contains a cameo in which a young and wordless Pierce Brosnan is mashed into Elizabeth Taylor’s breasts, as well as some of the bitchiest dialog ever emoted— Marina Rudd (Liz Taylor): Lola, dear, you know, there are really only two things I dislike about you. Lola Brewster (Kim Novak): Really? What are they? Marina Rudd: Your face. ]
My idea for a cozy mystery:
Amateur sleuth (an actual baby lamb), runs a pop-up shop in the Village selling sweaters knit from her own wool. Along with her lovable sidekick (a chocolate cupcake with salt-caramel frosting) and her on-again-off-again American boyfriend (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon), she solves murders!
Cozy sidekick. [image credit: pinterest ]
It’s a formula, sure, but one that works like icing for cupcakes. Consider, for example, if these trope-definers were rewritten as Cozy:
- Along with her sidekick (well-meaning if befuddled dear vicar), an elderly nanny investigates when the bodies of two local teenagers are found. Together they follow the trail of hidden assignations and political intrigue that threatens to bring down the highest levels of society. [Romeo and Juliet]
- Along with her sidekick (a polished gay social secretary), a snarky young girl reluctantly helps a naive farm boy seek the murderers of his adoptive parents while searching for clues to his biological father. [Star Wars]
- Along with her sidekick (her sister who is ethereally beautiful but slightly dumber than carpet lint) a feisty young heroine fights Victorian conventions to thwart a sinister conspiracy and reunite lovers. [Pride and Prejudice]
Okay maybe not… My guest this week is Kassandra Lamb, whose approach to the cozy genre in her new release The Call Of The Wolf, both embraces and challenges almost all the tropes.
Blurb: The Call Of The Woof by Kassandra Lamb
Army veteran Jake Black has a new lease on life, thanks to service dog Felix and his trainer, Marcia Banks. Despite a traumatic brain injury, Jake’s able to ride his beloved motorcycle again, with Felix in the sidecar. But his freedom to hit the open road is threatened once more when he and his wife are arrested for robbery.Called in to dog-sit, Marcia can’t sit idly by. She and her mentor dog, Buddy, set out to clear the Blacks’ name, fighting misconceptions about bikers and the nature of TBI along the way. When murder is added to the mix, Marcia redoubles her efforts, despite anonymous threats and her sheriff boyfriend’s strenuous objections, both to her putting herself at risk… and to dragging him along on her wild ride.
- Book Title: The Call Of The Woof
- Author: Kassandra Lamb
- Genre: Cozy Mystery/Thriller
Length: 236 pages
Publisher: misterio press LLC (20 July 2017)
- Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | Kobo
How did she do it? I just can’t figure out how Kassandra Lamb managed to write a cozy mystery without one single appearance of cupcakes, knitting, or cats (barring frequent references to the short life-expectancy of curious felines).
At first her Marcia Banks and Buddy series seems to embody trope-perfect cozy mysteries, with adorable and hard working service dogs and crime-solving trainer Marcia—that’s “Mar-SEE-a” and never “Mar-sha”.
As those who’ve been following this series already know, though, Marcia has issues that go beyond her lack of knitting, cats, and cupcakes. An outsider who has relocated to a tiny Florida town, Marcia is fleeing a bad marriage and her unhappy big-city life. Determined to reinvent herself, she starts a business training service dogs for emotionally and physically injured veterans. It’s usually her love for the dogs she’s trained that compels her to get involved when their new owners are caught up in danger and mysterious events.
As an amateur cozy mystery detective, Marcia needs two things: a sidekick, and a police contact. In her case, however, her sidekick has four paws and a tail, while her police contact is the local sheriff, Will, who is interested in maintaining very close contact. With the emotional trauma of her marriage and past blocking her, however, Marcia finds it’s easier to be physically intimate than to let Will into her emotions, heart, or soul. And she’s especially conflicted about the issue of children, which is something Will wants.
As always, Marcia is walking a thin line, balancing her growing feelings for Will against her need to remain independent. Money is always an issue, but in this latest book it’s become a crisis as her house needs structural repairs and her ownership of Buddy is in question. Unable to train new dogs while her house is being repaired, Marcia agrees to dogsit for her client Jake when he and his wife are jailed as suspects in a series of armed robberies.
But as Marcia tries to help with investigating, she finds herself first a witness and then a suspect in a horrific murder. Worried about the danger to her, Will demands that she back off the investigation. But when her dogs are threatened, nothing will stop Marcia from trying to help, not even her very real fear that she’ll drive Will away. Her investigations take her into the world of motorcycle clubs, which she soon discovers includes a spectrum of people from her new lawyer to recreational riders to criminals.
One of the things I enjoy about all of Kassandra Lamb’s books is that they are character driven. Although a series provides an ongoing and developing cast and setting, Kassandra Lamb’s characters continue to grow, change, and develop over time. In her previous series where the heroine was a psychotherapist like her author, Kassandra Lamb was able to use the training and insights of her profession to provide the clues and insights needed to solve the mysteries. But in Marcia and Buddy’s series, the process is more subtle. Marcia’s emotional damage is carefully exposed as she fights for each step of her emotional recovery. So too are the remaining physical and emotional traumas of her clients explored and factored into the dogs Marcia trains specifically for each.
I also enjoy that in terms of plot and pacing, the author plays fair with her readers. We get to know the clues, and often can put them together more quickly than the too-close-to-the-action Marcia. Unlike most cozy mysteries, some of the violence takes place onstage. There’s blood, and danger, and several genuinely terrifying scenes.
If I had any complaints, it would be with the very constraints of the cozy mystery genre. I don’t mind about the lack of explicit sex scenes. Poor Marcia and Will have a lot of trouble even arranging to have sex, and when they do it’s behind closed doors. But while the complete lack of swearing makes it a lot easier to read the bikers’ dialog, at the same time there’s a disconnect with the reality of how they might really speak that pulled me out of the action.
Overall though, if you like slightly-edgy cozy mysteries, if you enjoy learning about the service dogs and incredible ways they make it possible for their owners to lead fuller lives, and if you’re interested in complex flawed characters who work to heal, to find the courage to step beyond their fears, and to develop over time, then this would be a great series for you. Each book is a complete story arc and thus stands alone. But the complex relationships and side characters evolve with each new book, so I’d recommend you start from the beginning. After all…adorable dogs, murder, and fried gator bits—what’s not to love?
***I received this book from the publisher or author to facilitate an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.***