The Mind of the Cozy Mystery Writer

What’s the difference between a mystery and a cozy mystery?

The characters for one. Take the murderer for instance; those who commit murder in cozies are almost always rational, well-spoken, intelligent people. The crimes they commit, even murder, tend to be bloodless. If there is blood, there is no in-depth, stomach-churning description—just a few simple sentences, such as, “She found the victim with a screwdriver plunged through his heart. There was no sign of a struggle.”  says it all.

There’s also not a lot of sex in cozies. Sexual tension and flirting to be sure, but nothing overt. The protagonist, usually a woman, is educated and has a real job. She may be a professional private investigator or an amateur one. She does have romantic encounters, but sex scenes are kept pretty much behind closed doors.

Romance, however, is a key element. Even the greatest cozy mystery writer of all time, Agatha Christie, once made the statement that her books sold better if she threw in a little romance—“not much, just a little.” Besides being an incredible writer, Ms. Christie was very astute in the marketing of her books. Romance adds a nice touch to a cozy mystery

I have loved mysteries since I was a child, and so it wasn’t surprising that I became an author who writes them. As a crime/mystery author, I do as others before me have done. Deleted the old adage taught in creative writing classes that says you should write what you know and began to write the kind of book I enjoy reading myself.

The crime, the motive, the clues, and solving the case are what motivate the cozy crime writer. I love it all, and that’s why I write them. I created the character of PI Cate Harlow in the A Cate Harlow Private Investigation series, who sometimes goes a bit beyond the cozy mystery in her cases and love life, but hasn’t strayed too far. Readers tell me they like her just where she is for now. Cozy readers are specific and loyal.

Have you ever wondered what goes on in the mind of the person who writes such stories? A lot of readers do.

At book readings for For I Have Sinned and Grave Misgivings, I have had readers ask what goes on in my mind when I am writing about murder mysteries—basically, what makes authors of mystery novels tick?

I know that they eagerly want to hear that we’re slightly skewed to the crazy side to be able to write mystery thrillers with such conviction, but I have to disappoint them. Except for being passionate about writing, we’re normal—or as normal as anyone who spends hours every day alone with the imaginary characters in her head can be. I mean, there’s a long line of mystery/crime writers who really were kind of crazy.

Cozy mystery thrillers, despite the description of “cozy,” are still thrillers, and they have a history that dates back to the times when telling tales around a fire on lonely, dark winter nights was a great form of entertainment. Hearing a mystery brought to life by someone who was a gifted story-teller, someone who could take a simple story and embellish it with interesting characters and plotlines, was a fortunate experience.

The mind of the mystery writer is surprisingly not all that mysterious, we just see everyday occurrences in a different light. We deal in the real possibility of crime. The reader knows that the crime the author is describing could possibly happen to anyone, even them. There’s that thrill of fear and a distinct desire to have the crime solved. Cozies do that nicely.

Finding ideas for a cozy mystery is easy. Ever have the news on while you’re drinking your morning coffee and getting ready for work? Kidnappings, murder for hire, abductions; it’s a scary world out there, and even more so because it’s real and possible.The cozy mystery author takes these ideas and creates a safer haven for the actual story, cutting out the gore and horror—

And the crime always gets solved.

In a nod to the title of this site, the Criminal Element in society makes for great writing fodder. The fact that most novels have an ending where the crime is solved and some type of justice will prevail gives the writer “author satisfaction.” It’s our world and we like to, and do, tie up all loose ends. Maybe there’s more than a little bit of big ego involved in a mystery writer’s mind because, unlike real life, we’re in control of events.

The popularity of the cozy mystery continues to soar, and readers of them particularly like the cozies to be in series form. It’s like having a night out with a good friend who just happens to solve murders.

Keep checking back, because next time, I’ll introduce a few well-loved cozy mystery authors. Until then, enjoy reading!


Kristen Houghton is the author of nine top-selling books including the very popular new series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation.