Review: Peridale Cafe Cozy Mystery Series

I’ll put this out front: I don’t like cozy mysteries — generally speaking.

That’s the qualifier: “generally speaking”. Exceptions abound and that is what makes life interesting. The syncopation that shakes up the rhythm of life.

And Agatha Frost has provided wonderful syncopation by creating a delightful amateur sleuth in Julia South, and a most enchanting village in Peridale.

So, if I don’t like cozies, why am I reading them in the first place? That’s a very good question and the answer, in a word, is research. Research? Yes, indeed. You see, I’m thinking of writing my own cozy mystery series and I thought I should read a few and see if I could stomach them enough to write my own.

I tried this decades ago with romance novels, found they darn near made me regurgitate, and gave up on the idea of writing the things.

To my utter surprise, Ms Frost provided me with entertaining read after entertaining read. I blew through the six novels she had published — pre-ordered the 7th, which has now been delivered to the Kindle app on my iPad. Amazon is already flying the “Bestseller” banner on the book and it’s only been out for 2 days.

What is it that Ms Frost does right? Again, in a word — characters. The Peridale Cafe Cozy Mystery series is filled with interesting and entertaining characters. There is, of course, Julia herself. She is such a dear. Very likable for the most part. Like most people. Then there’s her crazy (as in unorthodox) grandmother. Dot is the perfect comic relief. We also have Julia’s ward, Jessie, and Julia’s blossoming romance with Barker, the police detective. The banter between Barker and Julia and Barker and Jessie provides lots of laughs as well.

The characters are simply wonderful and so is the humor. Lots of humor. There are also the day to day goings on of small town life and the murders and the social commentary. All are combined into a recipe guaranteed to produce a few hours of satisfying entertainment.

And the things I detest about cozies — the police being bumbling idiots, the amateur sleuth being simply brilliant, and the constant meddling of the amateur in a police investigation and not getting herself arrested — are pretty much absent from Ms Frost’s tales. And that is refreshing.

Julia is a bit more savvy than Barker on the crime solving. But then she grew up in Peridale and Barker is an outsider, a big city guy, unfamiliar with small town dynamics. So I can accept her superior puzzle solving ability.

Ms Frost’s writing style is straight forward. Nothing fancy. The dialogue is realistic and the description just right. The books are on the short side: 48,000 words or less. Which suits me just fine. I’m getting too old for ponderous tomes, where I might die before I can finish the thing.

My only gripe is that her proofreader sucks. The constant use of “her” instead of “she” is very annoying. Julia South became Julia Smith for a brief moment in one book. And the other grammatical and typographical errors that are so obvious one wonders how they got missed.

Ms Frost’s saving grace is that she writes a truly fab story. Her writing lets me be forgiving of the less than stellar proofreading. But just barely. I’m very fussy when it comes to such obvious errors in such numbers.

So what did I learn about writing cozies from my experiment?

  • Make sure the main characters are interesting, as well as the important supporting cast.
  • Give the amateur sleuth a police connection (which we also see in TV mysteries such as Grantchester and Castle, for instance).
  • Humor. Lots of humor. Doesn’t have to be rolling on the floor belly laughs. Wit, whimsy, and amusing interactions work just fine.
  • Introduce the murder early on. Second or third chapter. We are reading a murder mystery after all.
  • The pacing doesn’t have to be fast. Character, humor, and the murder can hold sufficient interest. Which is fine with me. I don’t care all that much for these full-throttle thrillers. They’re usually light on character and heavy on the action, and for me that gets boring after a while.

On the marketing side, I noticed, since this is a culinary mystery, the covers all have food on them and are brightly colored. The titles are also alliterative and have a food theme as well.

I highly recommend Agatha Frost’s Peridale Cafe Cozy Mystery series. It’s a winner.

Comments are always welcome and, until next time, happy reading!

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Good Writing Means Good Reading

Don’t you love a good book? One that draws you in and lets you forget the day to day? I certainly do and I think you do too. In fact, reading is my preferred form of entertainment. I’d rather read than do just about anything else, except perhaps eat and drink tea.

But what is a “good book”? That is a difficult question. It’s like trying to define “beautiful”. There is no objective answer. Which means the answer is subjective. In other words, it’s personal.

What is a good book for me, may not be for you.

But in order to have good books to read, there have to be books that are well written. On that I think we can agree.

Good Writing = Good Reading

But what is good writing? And we are back to the same old conundrum, aren’t we?

I read a fair amount of self-published books and stories. And I have to say there are some very good writers out there. And you’ve probably found that true as well.

I also read quite a few traditionally published books. There are some really mediocre writers that give me cause to wonder where the editor’s head was when their books crossed his or her desk. You’ve probably wondered the same. Maybe even said, “Shoot! I can write better than that!” You’ve said that, right?

I’m noticing more and more a disturbing trend, especially among self-published authors, and that is bling, glitz, and flash are taking the place of good writing (IMO, of course). Into the inbox come wonderfully flashy emails and some of those websites are awesome. But when I read one of these author’s books, it’s all I can do to keep my eyes open or not barf. For all the glitz and flash, these authors haven’t mastered the basic craft of storytelling. Have you had the same or similar experience?

In the race to be noticed and become a best-selling author (whatever that means these days when every nobody is one), writers are, it seems to me, forgetting the first rule of writing; which is, to write well.

As readers, we want good books to read. Not publisher hype. Not flashy emails. Not techno-wonderful websites. We just want a good story. A story with fabulous characters we love and love to hate. A story with a beginning, middle, and end. A story that moves us at some level other then to put the book down.

Over the past year I’ve run across a few authors who I think know how to craft a good story. Who know how to create characters I end up thinking are real people. Writers who I think are a cut above. And I’d like to share five of them with you. Let me introduce you to them.

Crispian Thurlborn writes fantasy and horror with such lyrical finesse I have to admit I’m jealous. His style is literary and magical. The humor is subtle. He can tug at your heartstrings. He can give you much to ponder. My only complaint is I’d wish he’d publish more. Take a look at Crispian Thurlborn’s website and do buy his books. They are truly reader heaven.

Ben Willoughby writes horror and fantasy, but I’ve only read his horror. And not even all of that, for which I’m glad — because that means more good reads are ahead of me! Willoughby has a crisp, no nonsense style. He knows how to tell a suspenseful story, with characters I care about, that keeps me on the edge of my seat. Check out his Amazon page for his titles. Please, don’t miss the treasure this guy has given us.

Steve Bargdill writes literary fiction that is dark, gritty, and edgy. He knows how to write a story and he gives us characters that are real. We care about these people, even if they are very flawed. His Wasteland reads like a modern Winesburg, Ohio. Take a look at his Amazon page. This guy is good. Don’t miss him. You’ll regret it.

Janice Croom writes romance and the Kadence MacBride cozy mysteries. I haven’t read her romance novels. I have read the first Kadence MacBride mystery and loved it! It’s a winner — and I don’t especially like cozy mysteries. But I love Kadence. She is thoroughly lovable. Croom is a master craftswoman at giving us wonderful, wonderful characters. If you don’t love the people in Kadence’s world, then you probably don’t like fried chicken either. And the humor! OMG, Croom’s writing is hilarious! I laughed my head off. Visit her website and treat yourself to Kadence MacBride. You won’t be sorry.

S.J. Rozan is a traditionally published author of the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith private eye mysteries. These are superlative reads and she has many awards for her writing. That usually doesn’t impress me, but in Rozan’s case I can clearly see why. Her writing has just the right amount of everything. It’s not too lean and it isn’t at all flabby. With an economy of words she paints the most beautiful pictures. Her characters are so real. Their world is so real. IMO, she is one of the best traditionally published authors I’ve run across in a very long time. She is truly a cut above.

These are five writers who I think are fab and think you’ll agree. No glitz, no bling, no flash. Just doggone good writing. And that’s what we readers want.

As always, your comments are welcome and until next time — happy reading!

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