The Truth About Cat and Dog Cozies

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.

Cover of Dog On It by Spencer Quinn
Dog On It by Spencer Quinn
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.

Dog reading All About Cats
Know Thy Enemy
Meanwhile, Brown has diverged into other “genres” (genera?) with a mystery series set among Virginia’s foxhunting community and the 2010 mystery A Nose for Justice, which appears to be the start of a series with a canine bent. “I can never understand how authors can write books without having animals become important characters,” Brown writes on her website. “We share the earth with other sentient creatures and they often do a better job of living full lives than we do. One woman’s opinion but I like the chatter of all living creatures.”

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.”

Dog poop!

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.

Comments

  1. Katrina Niidas Holm

    I love this post! Too many people dismiss the cozy genre in its entirety without ever having read one. Cozy author Nancy Atherton found her way onto the IMBA’s list of their 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century, and why? Because she writes *magnificently*. And let’s not forget that Max Allan Collins (yes, THAT Max Allan Collins) and his wife, Barbara Collins, write the Trash & Treasures cozy series together under the name Barbara Allan.

  2. Laura K. Curtis

    As much as I love dogs, I’ve never been too keen on the pet cozies, but I’m not sure why. Just never found one that sucked me in, I guess. I actually have Dog On It on my Kindle and I do intend to read it one of these days!

  3. Anne Parsons

    I’ve never been able to suspend disbelief enough to sample one of the first-person pet’s-voice cozies, but I love Susan Conant’s Dog Lover’s series featuring Cambridge (MA) dog trainer Holly Winter and her Malamutes. She gets dogs – and the eccentricities of the folks who love them – just right.

  4. Meg Mims

    LOL – great post! I picked up Dog on It last summer or whenever it came out, just because I thought the premise was so clever, not due to SK. The writing is indeed very good, the plot hangs well and I’m not surprised at all that the author has 3 more books out/coming. What I loved most is the POV set firmly on the dog’s shoulders, where other “pet cozies” may include the cat/dog as a character.

  5. Leslie Elman

    It’s a thin line between cute and precious and I thought that Dog On It came down on the right side of that line. Try it. And if you can’t suspend belief, pretend Chet is a perfume tester with a superhuman olfactory sense who’s taken a vow of silence and enjoys sleeping on the floor. Thanks for the comments!

  6. Nora Hurley

    I read the occasional cozy as a palate-cleanser of sorts when I’ve read too many hardcore thrillers in a row, but I’m not overly fond of the genre in general and not fond of pet cozies (or craft cozies) in particular because I think the cutesy nature of the stories diminishes the gravity of murder. A human life has been violently and brutally ended — yes, sometimes the victims are terrible people, but they’re humans nonetheless. To have a murder or string of murders and violence and then to stop to drop a cupcake recipe into the story, or to have a cat weigh in on the matter, diminishes the value of human life.

    There are smart cozies — I’ve always enjoyed Susan Wittig Albert’s herbalist stories, for example — but there is a fine line, as Leslie suggests, and I find most of the stories in this genre dance cavalierly across it too often.

  7. BlaizeC

    I always wonder if writers who sneer at cozy mysteries stomp their own sour grapes or pay somebody to do it for them. They not only insult cozy writers but the millions of fans who prefer cozies to gorier fare. Cozies, including dog and cat cozies, are like any other sub-genre. Some are drek, some are as well written and thoughtful as any of the male-dominated thriller fantasies in which middle-aged men run across young nymphomaniacs in jungles and on the high seas. You know, the ones male critics call “grittily realistic.”

  8. Babara

    I wish people wouldn’t sneer at cozy mysteries. If I want “gritty realism” I’ll buy a paper or watch the news. Ditto if I want to be terrified or depressed.

  9. Amy

    Cozies get a bad rap because there are so many out there that are just way too twee. But good ones, when you can find them, are some of the most fun mysteries around.

  10. vibro stone columns

    Thnaks for Shaering it

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