Cosy Mysteries – what’s the draw for me?

Many years ago, probably around 40, my Dad was quite a big reader. Mostly because he was sat in a room attached to multiple IVs but also because he just liked to read (wonder where I got it from). Though we didn’t know it yet (though I have to admit I had my horrible suspicions), Christmas 1984 was the last one we would have with him (but I digress), my point here is that this was my real introduction to the genre that has now become known as cosy crime / cosy mystery!

That year, as we tried to play the roles of smiley happy children opening presents (I got a pair of pull-through silver earrings [which I have sadly since lost], my sister got a doll [she was only 7] and my brother got some sort of watch [I think]), and stuffing our faces with roast dinner at my granny’s house, we got together and presented Dad with a present we had carefully thought out and managed to persuade our Granny that we just had to buy. 

While my brother and sister had found this gorgeously fluffy and very cuddly white bear, I had gone straight for the back wall of W H Smith and picked up a book. The cover was pretty gruesome (though I somewhat misremembered a lot of it for many many years) but it was by someone I knew Dad had enjoyed reading before. That book was Halloween Party by Agatha Christie!

Three different editions of Agatha' Christie's Hallowe'en Party

After he passed away the following April, his stuff was gathered up from the hospital where he had spent most of the previous 12 months and I don’t recall ever seeing the book again (it was probably gifted to the hospital library for other patients to read and enjoy.

So, there you have it, my introduction to Agatha Christie. However, it would take another 30 years for the love to truly set in, and by then I had just a vague memory of the book and its cover and I definitely didn’t remember what it was about!

Though it’s possible Agatha Christie would be turning in her grave at the idea of being considered a cosy crime novelist, it’s a term that has attracted more and more people to the genre over the years and she is most certainly the Queen! That being said, there are many other authors who have come up in the ranks since her final book hit the presses for the first time and so many sub-genres have appeared that you can easily be a fan of one without enjoying the others.

While the slightly rotund and sometimes over-confident Hercule Poirot remains my favourite, I have found myself often turning to other characters, and their creators, when I need a break from any other type of book.

In more recent years, thanks in part to the Acorn/Sky TV series, I have read a lot of Agatha Raisin books by the author MC Beaton. If you’ve listened to any of my podcast episodes you will know that I find her writing to be incredibly hit or miss, especially when it comes to the creation and interpretation of the women she has created.  For some reason, they are nearly all rather insulting stereotypes and in the latter years of her writing, they became even more so. I did, however, discover quite recently, after taking a trip up to Lochdubh with her first creation, Hamish Macbeth, that these insulting traits are not a new thing.

So, if I find her women so awful to read, why do I keep on reading? I guess there’s a part of me that hopes she sees the light and her female characters begin to improve. At the start of the Agatha Raisin series, Agatha – our lead protagonist – was nowhere near as unbearable as she became; obsessed with men, wracked with jealousy over any and all women who were younger or prettier or thinner than her, resentful when the men she was interested in weren’t interested in her. All of these traits became her sole focus throughout the series until I reached the point where I wondered, honestly, if MC Beaton hated women! Had she developed some kind of resentment towards women in her later years? It’s possible, after all I do find myself often wishing that I had my niece’s youth (she’s 23)…I like to think I wouldn’t waste it this time around (isn’t that always the wish?).

Anyway, less of that and more about the genre itself. There are so many new authors (strangely, a huge proportion of them seem to be celebrities from various walks of life, be that ex-popstars, chefs, TV presenters or politicians), and while some have seen incredible success, others have fallen victim to negative reviews and disappeared without a trace.

This wouldn’t be a discussion on cosy crime if I ignored the incredible success of Richard Osman. With his first novel, The Thursday Murder Club, not only did he start a bidding war between 7 publishers, but he also garnered a massive movie deal with none other than Steven Spielberg. While I cannot deny he has clearly managed to reach many fans of the genre, he is honestly not my cup of tea. After reading The Thursday Murder Club I found myself floundering, wondering why a) so many people had recommended this book to me and b) why it was considered to be quite so good!

Okay, I’m going to say it, I did not like it, there was nothing about any of the characters that spoke to me and to explain more about why I will direct you to the review I wrote and the episode I released on the topic!

Last year I was persuaded to give the Reverend Richard Coles’ book Murder Before Evensong a chance. This book was not, to my mind, a cosy crime or cosy mystery. The victim and the crime itself barely got a look in and I found myself, again, really frustrated with what I was reading. Once I finished it (I really do need to get better at DNFing books I am not enjoying) I decided that the book was one I would not be reading again, nor would I be dipping my toe back in his writing pond. The book was all ready to go to my local Oxfam when a friend mentioned it had been suggested for her reading group, so I happily handed it over. It has, since, been passed around her friend group with most deciding, like me, that it was a book to be read once and passed along, not so much recommended as a ‘hot potato’ to be quickly disposed of.

Since I have so quickly dismissed two authors I wouldn’t recommend, and here I will again clearly state that this is my personal opinion, everyone is different and I would never say that anyone is wrong when it comes to what they do and don’t like, I should get to the list of authors I will happily reread and recommend to others.

Anthony Horowitz – though I know him primarily from the Alex Rider series that, so many years ago, I read with my older nephews, he is a writer on many mystery TV shows you might recognise, including Midsomer Murders, ITV’s Poirot and Foyle’s War. He has also turned his hand to writing continuations of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond in novel form, as well as, obviously, the teenage spy series Alex Rider and more recently some novels I would consider complex cosy crime, namely Magpie Murders and Moonflower Murders. I enjoy his writing, and it’s for this reason I will often recommend him, he is clearly versatile and with his screenwriting history, mysteries are something he has written before.

Robert Thorogood – I know that many people felt he was jumping firmly on a bandwagon when the first book in Thorogood’s Marlow series was released. The cover of The Marlow Murder Club was similar (especially in colour) to The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, the title was similar too…but for me, that’s where the similarities ended. I wanted to know more about Judith, Becks and Suze, I was curious about the murder they were solving and I didn’t feel that they were stereotypes in any way (an issue I really had with the characters in Osman’s work, again, personal opinion). I do think it helped greatly that I had previously enjoyed Thorogood’s work. The creator of the only series I still watch on the BBC, Death in Paradise, he had released several book spin-offs and it was likely an introduction that helped me to enjoy his later work. I am looking forward to adding the third book, Queen of Poisons to my collection when it’s released in paperback.

Jesse Sutanto – though her books are admittedly a tad hit and miss, her standalone, Vera Wang’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers was 100% a top 20 read for me last year. The found family aspect was great, the plot kept me guessing – what was Vera’s connection to the killer as she really had no idea who the victim left dead in her tea shop was? I enjoyed reading this and re-read it again later in the year, just to get the taste of Four Aunties and a Wedding out of my mouth (that was something of a disappointment for me). I sincerely hope that she brings out another book with these characters, because Vera was a joy to read.

Rosemary Shrager – here is a celebrity author I actually don’t mind (sometimes I think they only get published because their name will automatically bring in sales). Anyway, this ex-celebrity chef brings to the fore her cooking knowledge with her amateur sleuth Prudence Bulstrode, who is herself an ex-TV chef who is now an independent private caterer driving to jobs in an ancient van accompanied by her sometimes reliable and definitely Gen Z great niece (who happens to be a great deal of fun. There are three books in the series, with the third Too Many Cooks having been published in mid-February 2024 – another book I will be getting in paperback!

I am not going to say these authors are better than others you may prefer, these just happen to be ones I have enjoyed over the last few years. I welcome any and all recommendations as I do love experimenting with new authors (there’s nothing better than finding an excuse to buy a new book).

Category: Books
Tags: Books
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