I never read much mystery before working at the Library. That said, working at LBPH, and getting a better sense of specifically cozy mysteries has been quite a learning curve for me. That learning curve has resulted in a real appreciation for mysteries of all stripes. Yes, of cozy mysteries, too. A cozy mystery generally defined as a mystery that features an amateur sleuth and often focuses on that sleuth’s hobby or profession. Usually set in small towns, cozy mysteries rarely (if EVER) contain graphic violence, profanity or explicit sex, and favor quickly-paced plots with twist and character development over action.
Not exactly Dashiell Hammett or Stieg Larsson books! Those hardboiled writers tend to be much more graphic and intense. A cozy, by contrast, is a great bit of escape.
Two of my favorite contemporary cozy writers are Miranda James and Ali Brandon.
Both heavily rely on books and cats to tell their stories. As a person who loves books and cats, this is not a difficult leap for me. I’m already a fan of a lot of what these books are about! Add a clever mystery to the mix and I’m in.
Miranda James (the pen name of Dean James, a librarian himself!) writes the Cat in the Stacks series featuring the widowed, semi-retired librarian Charley Harris and his Maine Coon cat Diesel. In between volunteering at his local public library and working in the special collections library of the fictional Athena College, Charlie and Diesel solve murders that happen around their small town of Athena, Mississippi. The first book in the series, Murder Past Due, is a great start! Other titles in the series include Classified as Murder, File M for Murder, and Out of Circulation.
Ali Brandon (the pen name of Diane A.S. Stuckart) writes the Black Cat Bookshop series featuring Darla Pettistone, a Texas transplant to Brooklyn who inherited her Great Aunt Dee’s bookshop, and feisty black cat named Hamlet. Books in this series so far include Double Booked for Death, and A Novel Way to Die.
As much as I enjoy both series, I have to say that what the Cat in the Stacks series by James lacks in the technical arena of writing, the books more than make up for it with how fun and engaging they are. By contrast, the Black Cat Bookshop series by Brandon could be said to be more skillfully crafted in some ways, with attention to letting the story unfold more slowly. In addition, Brandon crafts a melody to the sentences in her work. Some of the lightheartedness so common to so-called genre fiction, may be sacrificed, but the writing flows a bit more and the plot certainly doesn’t hurt because of it.
Cozy mysteries run the gamut of sub-sub-sub-genre writing (from gardening, to baking, to puzzles, to holidays, to holiday gardening [I’m totally serious…these exist!] and on and on…). It’s not ALL cats and libraries or bookshops. That said, generally light-hearted fare that still keeps the reader guessing can be a welcome reprieve in the worlds we navigate.
I love reading Flannery O’Connor, Sandra Cisneros, Cornell West and Eduado Galeanro. I also love reading the Cat in the Stacks books! I’ve never been convinced that it has to be all one, or the other. Reject those binaries, dear Eleventh Stack reader! Take a departure from your normal fare and get cozy!
Eric (who is eagerly awaiting cool autumn evenings with a cozy mystery, a cup of tea and a cat curled up with him)