Cozy mystery is a subgenre of crime fiction. When readers ask what are cozy mysteries, I explain they’re mysteries without on-the-page violence, physical intimacy or naughty words. That’s the quick-and-simple answer. Then I watch as their faces light up with understanding. I love that moment.
Of course, people who read cozy mystery novels—also called cozies—know there’s a lot more to this subgenre than stories without gore, sex or obscenities. It’s not just about what they don’t have. What I love most about cozies—in addition to the mysteries—are the elements they do have. I love the humor, the quirky secondary characters, the closeknit communities, and especially the intrepid amateur sleuths who use their unique skills and investigative team to solve murders.
We can trace the cozy mystery subgenre to the early 20th century. Agatha Christie is considered the Mother of Cozy Mysteries, which is the reason National Cozy Mystery Day is observed each year on her birthday, Sept. 15. Save the date so you don’t miss the fun next time.
Cozy mystery authors have always sought to grow the definition of cozies by pushing its boundaries. We’re always expanding the cozy mystery novel subgenre by mixing in other fiction genres. These include—but are not limited to—historical, paranormal and romance.
Let’s take a look at each of these three cozy mystery book subgenres.
Historical cozy mystery novels
The combination of historical fiction and cozy mysteries results in cozies sent during time periods considered historical from the author’s perspective. But it’s more than telling your readers that your story is set in the 1940s, for example. You have to show them. You do this through the events, people, attire and language that appear in your mystery.
For example, you wouldn’t have a Coachella concert in a mystery set in the 1920s. Mini-skirts weren’t the rage in the 1940s. Jay-Z wouldn’t headline the Super Bowl halftime concert in 1968. And although Sydney Poitier was rizz in the 1957 movie “To Sir, with Love,” reviewers wouldn’t have used that term to describe him. In fact, I recently learned that Gen Alpha slang for “charismatic.”
Most importantly, your sleuth’s method of investigation would need to reflect your story’s historical era. Keep in mind that fingerprinting wasn’t used in the United States until the 1900s. DNA testing wasn’t introduced until the 1980s. And if you want to set a historical cozy mystery book in the 1930s, your sleuths wouldn’t be able to access social media to research their suspects.
Here are two books that are great examples of historical cozy mysteries:
- The Lady Darby Mysteries by Anna Lee Huber. There are 12 books in this series, which is set in 1830s Scotland and features Lady Kiera Darby.
- The Klondike Mysteries by Vicki Delany. This five-book series takes place in the 1890s in the Yukon territories during the gold rush. It features amateur sleuth Fiona MacGillivray who owns the Savoy dance hall.
Paranormal cozy mystery novels
By its nature, paranormal cozy mystery novels rewrite the rules of the real world. Their supernatural elements help your cozy mystery differentiate itself even more from other stories. But these elements must be more than window dressing. Your talking cat shouldn’t just be chatty. Your mind-reading dog shouldn’t just be nosy. Talking animals, needy ghosts, magical powers or whatever supernatural elements you choose should be used to help solve the mystery. Take this test. If you can remove all of your paranormal elements from your story without hurting the plot, then you haven’t written a paranormal cozy mystery novel.
These two books are great examples of paranormal cozy mysteries:
- The Gethsemane Brown Mysteries by Alexia Gordon. There are five books in this cozy mystery series. The amateur sleuth, Gethsemane Brown, is an American music teacher. She relocates to Ireland and moves into a charming cottage. Right away, we have our fish-out-of-water character who’s made even more unique by the fact that she solves murders with the help of her resident ghost and friend, Eamon McCarthy. Murder in G Major, the first Gethsemane Brown Mystery, was made into a Hallmark mystery movie titled Haunted Harmony Mysteries: Murder in G Major.
- The Enchanted Bay Mysteries by Esme Addison. There are currently two books in this series with a third coming soon. The series is set in a quiet seaside town. The amateur sleuth, Aleksandra Daniels, her maternal relatives and several Bellamy Bay residents are descended from mermaids and have magical powers. These characters use their powers to both commit crimes and solve murders.
Romantic cozy mystery novels
Romantic cozy mystery novels combine romantic fiction—usually the light-hearted, humorous elements of romantic comedy—and crime fiction. As an author who writes both romance and mystery novels, I enjoy romantic cozy mystery books, or romcozies as they’re also called. Cozy mystery author Gabby Allan has been credited with coining the term.
In romcozies, the amateur sleuth usually is the one with the romantic interest. Their crush could be a key member of the sleuth’s investigative team. Or the love connection could be with a member of law enforcement who is either opposed to or supportive of the sleuth’s interference in the case. Their relationship could start off with fireworks or it could be a slow burn. Either way, make it clear to the reader that the characters in question are destined for romance.
As with the other cozy mystery subgenres, you can test whether you have a true romcozy by pulling out the romance. If the mystery and character conflicts remain intact without the romance, then you don’t have a romantic cozy mystery. Your central characters’ relationship isn’t critical to the conflict.
Here are two books that are great examples of romcozies:
- The Sassy Cat Mysteries by Jennifer Chow: The amateur sleuth, Mimi Lee, owns a pet grooming shop. She solves murders with the help of her talking cat, Marshmallow, and her dreamy lawyer neighbor, Josh. So technically, this cozy mystery trilogy combines paranormal and romantic elements. Bonus!
- The Amish Candy Shop Mysteries by Amanda Flower: Bailey King is an amateur sleuth and the owner of an Amish candy shop. She investigates murders with the help of her law enforcement boyfriend, Aiden Brody.
We’ve only reviewed three examples of fiction genres blending with cozy mystery novels here. Whatever fiction genre you mix into your cozy mystery—historical, paranormal, romance, steam punk, etc.—it’s important to remain true to the roots of cozy mysteries: no on-the-page violence, physical intimacy or naughty words