National Crime Reading Month

Solving the Mystery of Cosy Crime

by Antony Johnson

Cosy crime is a burgeoning subgenre enjoying its moment in the sun, winning awards and breaking sales records. Readers with a taste for escapism can’t get enough of it, and even established authors are trying their hand at it.
But what exactly is cosy crime? If you’re thinking of diving in and giving it a try, what are the clues you should look out for? I’m so glad you asked. Grab your magnifying glass and let me lead you through a very cosy crime scene…

Clue #1: That’s Impossible!

The most important clue to a great cosy is a baffling crime. Most often this is a murder, though not always (Vaseem Khan’s Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown revolves around a gem heist, for example). What matters is that the crime is truly mystifying; even seemingly impossible in the case of many locked-room murders. More than any other subgenre, cosy takes delight in the puzzle of the crime, and often encourages readers to try and ‘beat the detective’ by figuring it out for themselves.
(And if ‘beating the detective’ is your thing, why not pre-order my upcoming interactive novel Can You Solve the Murder? to test your deductive skills…)

Clue #2: Old Friends

Some might say this is an even more vital piece of evidence than the crime itself, and cosies are hardly the only series with a fondness for returning characters, but they’re no less vital. Readers come to know and love (or love to hate) recurring personalities, so the best examples have strong personalities that make us want to spend lots of time with them. However, this doesn’t mean they have to be squeaky clean or even particularly likeable. Claire, the medium in Alice Bell’s Grave Expectations series, is neither – but she’s enormously sympathetic, and a joy to read.

Clue #3: Live, Laugh, Love

A light touch is the clue that makes a great cosy stand out from the pack, and it can take many forms. For example, cosies tend not to focus on violence and nastiness (though bitchiness is another thing entirely, as amply demonstrated in JM Hall’s A Spoonful of Murder). They also often employ wit and humour, endearing the characters to us, and can even offer a self-aware wink to readers paying attention. Finally, you’ll often find a thread of romance running through cosies – though you’re unlikely to encounter any ripped bodices.

Clue #4: Less Blood, Please, We’re Cosy

The clue that you’re looking at the scene of a cosy crime is how it avoids brutality. Cosies don’t normally dwell on gore, graphic descriptions of violence, or bloodthirstiness. In my own book The Dog Sitter Detective (which won the Barker Book Award for fiction) the victim is found bludgeoned to death in a library – but the scene’s narration and focus is on the clues revealed by his body, not the blood and brains of his corpse.

Clue #5: …And Justice for All

At last, it’s time to come clean and confess my crime: I lied to you at the start. This is the most important element in a great cosy, and it’s a very simple one: justice will be done. Few things are less cosy than a villain getting away with murder, and it’s certainly not what we expect as readers. We want to see the villain get their comeuppance, come hell or high water, and if it’s done in a poetic or ironic fashion (see clue #3) all the better.

Does all that sound like fun? Believe me, it is. To see where these five crucial clues led my own investigations, ask your bookseller for the Dog Sitter Detective series – starring semi-retired actress Guinevere ‘Gwinny’ Tuffel, who takes up dog-sitting to make ends meet but keeps stumbling across baffling murders which only she can solve… in her own inimitable cosy fashion, of course.

Antony Johnston writes the award-winning Dog Sitter Detective cosy mysteries, and created the interactive novel series Can You Solve the Murder which launches next year. The blockbuster spy movie Atomic Blonde was based on his graphic novel, and his Brigitte Sharp espionage thrillers are in development for TV. Find him at antonyjohnston.com