Cozy mystery recommendations wanted

When I was much younger (mid teens) I went through a brief period where I read a ton of “cozy” mysteries. Many years later, I want to dive back into the genre.

I’d love get some recommendations both of classic stuff and (assuming the genre’s still alive) more modern stuff.

A couple of requests:

  1. They have to be real mysteries. Where the reader can figure the mystery out too. No cheating. Aunt Hortence solving the mystery of the beaten bishop because the writer is 20 pages from the end and that triggers her (heretofore) unmentioned bump of intuition which solves the mystery is out. :slight_smile:

  2. I’ve tried (recently) reading Miss Marple and just bounced off. Except for “Ten Little <Ethnic Slur>s”, I’ve never enjoyed Agatha Christie. I’m open to recommendations if something stands out, but focusing on other writers could be helpful. An occasional male protagonist wouldn’t hurt either, assuming they exist (I remember most of the ones I read as being grandmas solving mysteries)

  3. I recall from my earlier reading in the genre that some could be icky-sweet and/or diabetes coma inducing.

  4. Final one: I understand that there’s a whole new subgenre of urban-fantasy cozy mysteries (A witch who runs a bakery solves crimes-type thing). These sound like they could be a lot of fun as long as they don’t violate rules 1 and 3.

Any suggestions? I’ve got a file open and am ready to take notes. :slight_smile:

I recommend Louise Penny’s Three Pines mysteries, starting with Still Life and read in order. The town and its inhabitants are as important to the series as the plot, but there is enough genuine mystery to keep the books chugging along.

I’m a desert dweller and hate the cold, but I’d live in Three Pines, Quebec (despite the fact that an inordinate number of townsfolk wind up dead).

(emphasis mine)

Characterization is really important to me, so the part I bolded/underlined is a huge inducement. It’s now on my list. :slight_smile:

Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr series (“The Burglar Who…”) are fun, cozy, and can be figured out as you read. Ditto Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series.

Can someone explain to me how a “cozy” mystery is different from a mystery?

I’d consider Martha Grimes’s Richard Jury series to be cozies, even though the protaganist is a Scotland Yard detective. Much of the time is spent in the village pub, antique shop or various other cozy locations.

A second on Louise Penny, too; she’s one of my current favorites.

It usually involves complicated murder plots and multiple suspects, all of which can’t be ruled out until the end. Often the detective gathers all the suspects together at the climax and presents the evidence, mentioning all of the suspects (who protest) until he explains why they are not guilty and leading to pointing out the guilty party, who then confesses everything. Think Agatha Christie. It’s more about solving the puzzle than anything else.

If you want an example on TV, there’s Death in Paradise and Midsomer Murders

If you like acerbic characters and early to mid-20th century settings, I recommend Edmund Crispin and Georgette Heyer. Ms. Heyer was most famous for her Regency romances, but she wrote a few contemporary detective novels. Both authors are fairly hard to find in print, but definitely available on Kindle. Most are included in Kindle Unlimited. I will warn you that Penhallow is not everyone’s cup of tea; there is not a single redeeming character in the book. I love it. It’s hard to write a story about that many people that no one likes. Ms. Heyer apparently did it to get out of a contract and pretty much shot herself in the foot. Footsteps in the Dark and Death in the Stocks are my favorites.

Easier to find in print and with more mainstream characters, Ngaio Marsh wrote the Roderick Allyen series from the mid thirties to early eighties. I like the early Martha Grimes, but around the last three-four books she got sober and metaphysical and almost impossible to read. I haven’t read Vertigo 42 yet, so maybe there’s hope.

I’m on the fence about the Clara Benson books I’ve downloaded on Kindle. You might give them a try. They’re pretty inexpensive. Kindle has a lot of early 20th century mysteries out there. Some were forgotten for a very good reason….

The term I’ve heard for that is “drawing room” mysteries, as in the place everyone gathers for the denouement.

As is often the case, Wikipedia has an article.

I think of them as the kind of mystery novel a little old lady of delicate sensibilities would read. (Their readership is not limited to this demographic, though I suspect it does skew female and older.)

You’re just thinking of Miss Marple, who was only one of Christie’s many detectives, most of whom were male. Some of my favorite Christie mysteries are one-offs with male protoganists. I highly recommend:

Endless Night
Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
The Pale Horse
Murder is Easy
(to be fair, in this one the male protoganist is assisted by a little old lady)
Crooked House

Of course, her most famous detective, Hercule Poirot, was also male.

Which of the classics have you read? Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries are the absolute best of the genre. There’s also the previously mentioned Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey.

For more modern cozies, I recommend Dorothy Simpson’s Luke Thanet mysteries. I also love Lindsay Davis’ Marcus Didius Falco mysteries. They are modern in the sense of having been written recently, but take place in ancient Rome.

I strongly recommend Charlotte MacLeod. Professor Shandy mysteries, beginning with Rest You Merry, are great, especially The Luck Runs Out and Wrack and Rune, also the Sarah Kelling mysteries, beginning with The Family Vault.

And, as one offs, Death by Sheer Torture and Fete Fatale, both by Robert Barnard.

Mysteries have a zillion subgenres. Fenris seems to be using “cozy” to mean a “fair play” mystery, where the reader gets all the clues. Cozy has a different meaning these days, usually a small town setting with a woman as the detective. Those may or may not be fair play. Sometimes the murderer is trapped into confessing, or intuition plays a big part, or a surprise reveal is the ending. This was often true even back in the so-called Golden Age. Fair play went up its own ass with plots so complicated and preposterous that they drove away more readers than they gained. Hake Talbot’s Rim of the Pit is on every list of best classic mysteries and the NSA and Google combined couldn’t follow the plot. Anthony Boucher’s The Case of the Seven Sneezes contains nine crimes committed by four people. Clayton Rawson’s masterpiece Death from a Top Hat goes through seven different explanations of the impossible crime.

But mysteries also include police procedurals, private eyes of various boilednesses, crime novels, caper novels, suspense and horror, serial killers, spies and other types of thrillers, and things starring cats.

A few older favorites that I think might fit cozy plus atmosphere.

John Dickson Carr is the king of the impossible crime novel. He had two detectives, Dr. Gideon Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale, but their plots are interchangeable. Setting is between wars Britain, upper class but definitely not Downtown Abbey. Merrivale has more humor than Fell, but he’s written lightly as well. Skip the post-war books unless you get hooked. (The Merrivale books were originally published as by Carter Dickson but they’ve all be re-released under Carr.)

The short story parallel is Ed Hoch. He wrote more than 100 stories about Connecticut small-town Dr. Sam Hawthorne. Every one is an impossible crime mystery. No writer in history ever did more. Astoundingly, he wrote them in chronological order so that he could highlight the changes from year to year in the community. Obviously, start with the first collection, Diagnosis: Impossible.

Phoebe Taylor Atwood also had two detectives, Asey Mayo of Cape Cod and Leonidas Witherall of the Boston suburbs, with Witherall playing as farces. Skip the early 30s Mayo while she’s figuring things out. He changed a lot over the years. The stories set during WWII have an interesting look at the home front. (The Witherall books were originally published as Alice Tilton but they’ve all been re-released under Taylor.)

Craig Rice set her (yes, her) books in a Front Page-era Chicago with enough booze to kill Nick and Nora Charles. They are the closest thing to screwball comedy in print. Yes, I have a thing for funny mysteries, which are rare. But if they hold up they often read better than the supposedly serious ones.

Peter Dickinson, who died recently, won every award imaginable for his first five mysteries, each about Superintendent Pibble. Then he got better.

As for Edmund Crispin, he’s mostly post-war, set in England’s university community. His The Moving Toyshop is a classic, but I’ve read it four times and still can’t figure out how they got away with it. (A body is found in a toyshop but when they come back the next morning it’s a grocery store.) A better writer than most.

Christie also wrote a bunch of Tommy and Tuppence stories, where – well, the crime is going to get solved; and sometimes it’s going to be Tommy who beats Tuppence to it; and sometimes it’s a cozy fair-play mystery.

At that, some Nero Wolfe stories are cozy fair-play mysteries, but some aren’t – and, of course, Archie Goodwin is so competent in his own right that he sometimes gets the job done for the client du jour during the preliminary investigation, before he can get it to the armchair-sleuth genius he works for.

(Ooh! The Black Widowers mysteries! What’s cozier than a private club of armchair sleuths? The armchair sleuth they turn to! That’s fair play squared!)

Here are the twenty rules Van Dine laid down for a cozy mystery to follow; reading them gives a good idea of how artificial the stories are, which is, of course, a large part of the point: This is escapist fiction, not a fictional exploration of social problems which lead to homicide. It’s a logic problem in a top hat and tails, and at its best it dances like Fred Astaire, performing a delicate magic trick with suspects and clues galore.

The original set of short stories were each a parody of a famous detective writer. Some might be really hard to get these days.

Pretty low on characterization and setting, though.

The classic use of this device is the Baroness Orczy’s The Old Man in the Corner (1901+) who sits in a teashop and solves crimes brought to him by a “lady journalist.”

I debated putting The Secret Adversary on my list, because it’s one of my favorites, but I didn’t think it really fit the OP’s criteria.

It’s not one of the Tommy-and-Tuppence ones I was thinking of when I wrote that, but why don’t you think it technically fits the OP’s criteria?

(Er, with spoilers, of course; no reason to spell out why for the OP, just whether.)

Yeah, Toyshop reminds me that Mr. Crispin was fond of the bottle. One thing if you read The Moving Toyshop: at the end, you might be tempted to say “He stole that from Hitchcock!” Other way 'round: Hitchcock took the ending from Crispin.

I’d strongly recommend Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. It’s fiendishly clever but perfectly fair. Plus, you can’t beat a good old fashioned Christmas murder mystery :slight_smile: