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.
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