C is for cosy crime - but how can crime be cosy ?

Author: Anne

Date Published: May 13th 2017, 5:58pm

I have lots of friends who enjoy crime fiction. One especially loves gritty and realistic crime (Ian Rankin and his ilk) but most prefer their crime on the cosier side. I wrote this blog some time ago but I still struggle at the idea of using the death of people as entertainment whilst greatly enjoying the type of books that are encompassed in this genre.


Cosy crime is the name we give to a sub-genre of suspense and mystery novels and it is a very strange area of writing.

A cosy crime novel will always feature a murder but the crime will very much be seen as a puzzle rather than a brutal act and the book will not dwell on the gory elements of death. The meat of the story will be in the investigation which will almost certainly feature an amateur detective, often a woman (in some very cosy crime novels the detective is a cat). The book will be set in a closed or semi-closed environment such as a small village or a theatre production and there will be lots of red herrings and plenty of suspects together with a very convoluted plot. The ending will involve the detective figure being in some type of peril and/or a gathering of all the suspects and a revelation of the solution to the mystery. The murder victim will not be a sympathetic character and lots of people will have motives. Many cosy crime novels are written in an amusing manner.

What I find strange about this area of crime fiction is the light and often amusing way in which the dreadful act of murder is depicted. The attention of the book is on the detective figure and the investigation and the story is designed in such a way that the reader spends more time trying to work out who may have done it than they do empathising with the victim who is often shown to have somehow deserved their fate. The murderer is the person who you least suspect and the author often plays tricks on the reader to try and hide the identity of the perpetrator until the very end. There may be a series of novels with the same investigator(s) who will strangely and very unbelievably encounter a murder in each book.

Many novels which were written in the Golden Age of detective novels can now be regarded as cosy crime although they may have been cutting edge when they were written. I am thinking particularly of Agatha Christie but also of Ngaio Marsh and possibly Dorothy L Sayers. Modern exponents of the art include Simon Brett, Robert Barnard, Alexander McCall Smith, Donna Andrews, Elizabeth Peters, Marion Babson, Charlotte McLeod and Charlaine Harris to name only a very few – it’s a very popular area of crime writing.

The whole idea of depicting terrible acts of violence and death to people as entertainment often causes me to pause and think even though probably over half the books I read come into this category. To downplay the act of murder to such an extent that the book is amusing or it glosses over the violence in favour of the puzzle makes me feel uncomfortable and yet I do include this type of book in my reading diet and enjoy a lot of them. I’ve never really come to terms with my difficulties with this type of reading – I have doubts in the abstract but enjoy many of the actual books. I expect that I will continue to wonder about the wisdom of this type of reading whilst at the same time continuing to enjoy much of the output. Maybe if I continue to think about it I may one day resolve the issue in my mind – meanwhile, there are books to read !