Some like it cozy.
I was in Paris last week, where my daughter found a wonderful flat to rent for our visit. But for some reason, the letting agent took us on a tortuously circuitous route to get from his office to the flat. It wasn’t until we’d finished exclaiming about the gorgeous curved front room with its floor to ceiling windows opening onto little iron balconies that we saw the reason. The flat looked out over the raucous night scene of Rue Saint Denis, the not-so-former red light district of Paris. The actual street leading to our flat was lined with ladies, not one of them under age 50, who were clearly eschewing the internet in favor of going old school in their profession. Around them, music blared from clubs, cars honked, people sang, while Christmas lights splashed rainbow color on streets already heaving with a rhythm that was uniquely Paris.
And in the middle of the noise and the lights and the cars, I spotted a sign with a pair of familiar golden arches. 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 or Chez Mac. 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. There will be the amateur and probably female detective, who won’t want to get involved (unless she’s elderly and knits), but she’ll end up investigating anyway. She’ll have a sidekick who is endearing but slightly less intelligent than the reader, plus a group of recurring characters which will include members of the police and medical communities. Of course, it will be set in a familiarly adorable little (preferably English) village. Any actual sex, swearing, blood and/or gore will occur offstage. But there will be the occasional knitting, probably cupcakes, and almost definitely cats.
For example, take 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…”
NOTE: 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 vicar’s old projector 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 Review: 4 stars out of 5 for Bodies in the Boatyard (A Mollie McGhie Cozy Sailing Mystery Book 2) by Ellen Jacobson
What would you do if your husband announced over a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner that the two of you were going to sell the house, do some extreme downsizing, get rid of all your belongings—including your beloved collection of boots—and move onto a dilapidated sailboat?
Mollie McGhie would be even more upset with her husband Scooter’s plans except for three things.
- This isn’t the first harebrained scheme her husband has come up with (including presenting her with a dilapidated sailboat for their tenth anniversary instead of the diamonds she’d been expecting).
- Her twin addictions to chocolate and caffeine keep distracting her.
- She wants to get to know her new neighbors but instead she keeps stumbling over their dead bodies.
Bodies in the Boatyard is a genre-mashup that defies categorization, breaking almost every rule of cozy mysteries while managing to fit neatly into the genre. It’s a character driven cozy mystery with a delightfully quirky amateur detective. Only instead of an old lady solving crimes over her knitting, we have Mollie McGhie, newly minted (unpaid) Investigative Reporter for FAROUT (the Federation for Alien Research, Outreach, and UFO Tracking), whose uncanny ability to trip over dead bodies should probably raise more alarms among her quarrelsome neighbors at the Palm Tree Marina.
“It’s amazing how quickly the day goes by when you find a dead body.”
Apparently Mollie feels that discovering bodies (she’s up to four now) gives her a proprietary right to investigate their deaths. When she (or to be more accurate, her cat Mrs. Moto) finds the body of a young man, it’s her husband Scooter who faints, while Mollie decides to look for the murderer.
Far from being a reluctant amateur detective, Mollie is not only determined to solve the case, but sees herself in direct competition to find the solution before the police. Her sidekick, in best cozy mystery tradition, is her new cat, Mrs. Moto. And despite the cozy mystery trope that says her sidekick should be slightly less intelligent than the reader, we get the strong feeling the feline boasts the higher IQ of the pair. Even Mollie seems to admire Mrs. Moto’s skills, as she considers and regretfully dismisses the idea of dressing her cat as Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple with her knitting. “I could just imagine the mischief she would get into if one of the props were a ball of yarn. Who was I kidding?”
A more traditional cozy mystery would set the action 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. But Mollie looks for her caffeine, chocolate, and murderers in Coconut Cove Florida where the restaurants are more likely to serve alligator bites with swamp sauce than high tea.
Since Mollie’s first choice of suspect is usually alien abduction, the red herrings and actual clues liberally scattered about don’t worry her. Author Jacobson plays fair with readers by making sure we have all the information that still baffles poor Mollie and frustrates her arch-rival, Police Chief Dalton. We observe with Mollie as her neighbors fight, feud, and scheme but also as they look out for and support each other. Luckily for Mollie’s blood-phobic husband Scooter, most gore occurs out of sight, but she thoughtfully keeps emergency chocolates around just in case he’s looking queasy.
If you like your mysteries with a minimum of blood, sex, or swearing but liberally embellished with humor and a quirky cast of characters, I recommend both books in this series.
Selling your house and moving onto a rundown sailboat—not a dream come true. Finding dead bodies in the boatyard—a total nightmare.
Mollie McGhie loves her beachfront cottage. When her husband announces that he wants to sell the house, downsize, and move onto their dilapidated sailboat, she’s not impressed.
When the boat starts leaking, she secretly hopes it will sink. Instead, they haul her out of the water and into the boatyard. Fixing the boat up is bad enough, but when Mollie finds someone has been killed nearby, things get even worse.
Mollie takes matters into her own hands and investigates the mysterious death in the boatyard, along with her adorable feline companion, Mrs. Moto. While she searches for clues, she meets more of the quirky characters who live in the small Floridian town of Coconut Cove, learns about sea turtles, overcomes her fear of public speaking, and, of course, eats way too many sugary treats.
Can Mollie catch the killer before someone else ends up dead?
If you like lighthearted and humorous cozy mysteries with quirky characters, adorable cats, and plenty of chocolate, you’ll love Bodies in the Boatyard.