During a recent stay at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Boca Raton, Florida, I partook of the resident Loan Library. There’s clearly a taste for crime in Boca; of the thirty-two books on the shelf, a dead body or two figures in at least twenty-one of them—including Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, which would seldom be classified as a mystery or crime novel, but is a superb read nonetheless.
The book I borrowed for my stay was Dog On It by Spencer Quinn, and for that, I credit/blame Stephen King.
“Dog On It has got more going for it than fifty of those cat cozies,” quoth King in a cover blurb. To which I replied, “Et tu, Stephen?”
You can’t argue with Stephen King—the man knows a thing or two about writing books, not to mention selling them. But is it necessary to praise one genre by mocking another? That is, if cat cozies and dog cozies could even be considered separate genres—I’ll leave it to the pet people to slug that out.
Books are books, when all is said and done, and I’d rather that people were buying and reading something than nothing at all. Besides, there are plenty of books that sell astronomical quantities even though they’re poorly crafted and executed. (I’m looking at you, Dan Brown.) Nevertheless, if The Da Vinci Code—or A Shore Thing by the inestimable Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi—are what it takes to keep the book business alive, so be it. We need books. Any reader of cozies would tell you that.
The first, and possibly only, “cat cozy” I ever read would have been Wish You Were Here by Rita Mae Brown, who progressed from writing the groundbreaking Rubyfruit Jungle (I’m pretty sure this was assigned reading for some class I took in college) to co-authoring mystery novels with her cat, Sneaky Pie. A comedown? Hardly. Writing with inspiration is never wrong; and twenty books, give or take, into her Mrs. Murphy series (Mrs. Murphy is a cat, natch), Brown has found a comfortable niche for herself. In a sunny spot on the windowsill, I daresay. Her latest Mrs. Murphy mystery, Hiss of Death, is just out.
Which brings us back to Spencer Quinn. . .
Dog On It is the first of a series that includes Thereby Hangs a Tail and To Fetch a Thief. (Just as an aside: If Stephen King’s objection to cozies has anything to do with the tortured puns that populate their titles, I’m with him on that score.) The next in the series, The Dog Who Knew Too Much, is due out in September.
What I didn’t know is that “Spencer Quinn” is the nom de plume of Peter Abrahams, a thriller writer and FOS (Friend of Stephen) who cleverly embarked—yes, I did say “embarked”—in a cozier direction that landed him, although not for the first time, on the New York Times Best Seller list.
Quinn tells his tales from the point of view of Chet, a mixed breed (don’t call him a mongrel) dog and partner of private eye Bernie Little. It’s an interesting writing exercise that Quinn takes on with deftness and humor, developing a narrator who absorbs sensory input nose-first, and who must cope with persistent attention deficit and, of course, that pesky not-being-able-to-talk thing. Quinn even blogs as Chet now.
It’s not giving too much away to say that Dog On It features a dog and includes a cat and a crime that’s decidedly light on gore. (How cozy is that?) In an interview with Sarah Weinman for The Daily Beast, conducted shortly after his secret identity was revealed, Abrahams speculates that fans of his thrillers might not have picked up Dog On It because they would have judged it “too cozy.”
A good writer remains a good writer even if he or she chooses to write about cats who solve mysteries or dogs who sustain an internal monologue far wittier and more astute than their human companions’. Next time you hear someone sneer, “Who writes those. . .cozies?” tell them they’d be surprised. I like to imagine that somewhere in Maine, Stephen King is pecking away at a pseudonymous cozy of his own. In a world embracing murderous Plymouths and prom queens who set the school gym ablaze with their thoughts, who’s to say what’s unrealistic?
Leslie Gilbert Elman blogs intermittently at My Life in Laundry. She’s written two trivia books and has a few unpublished fiction manuscripts in the closet to keep the skeletons company.