Murder Isn't Funny

Sunday, June 21, 2015
Over the past decade, the definition of a cozy mystery has narrowed significantly. Wikipedia defines them as:
“Cozy mysteries, also referred to simply as "cozies", are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community.”
See, there’s that word: humorously.

This wasn’t a requirement in early cozy mysteries, like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories or even the Nancy Drew mysteries I devoured as a child. But it has become one today. If you don’t have “quirky characters” in your mystery today, readers of cozies are disappointed. I’m not such a curmudgeon that I don’t believe there’s room for humorous mysteries, but I’m dismayed by the number of them and the fact that they’ve squeezed out non-humorous stories from the category.

I’ve been particularly bothered by reviews of cozies that start out with something like: This was a great book! It had me laughing all the way through it.

Because, as was too well evidenced by the events in Charleston, South Carolina, this week, murder isn’t funny.

We’ve become inured to murder and violence in America. There have been lots of articles decrying the amount of violence in video games and questioning what effect it has on our youth. It’s in movies and television, too, with car crashes and explosions from which somehow our hero (or heroine) and the ones he or she is trying to save miraculously walk away unscathed. I think most of us have seen enough of real life to know this isn’t the way it happens.

I just can’t conceive of writing humorous mysteries of my own. Oh, I may have funny moments, just like I have romantic moments and moments of pathos. Fiction, like life, has to have a range of emotions. But “laughing all the way through” a murder mystery just doesn’t seem right to me.

For me, a murder mystery, whether a police procedural, detective fiction, or cozy, is about bringing order back to a world in chaos due to the horrendous event that precipitates it. It’s about bringing the killer to justice in the end. It’s about making things right. Or, to put it simply, the good guys win.

So you won’t see cartoon covers on my books and you’ll find few—if any—quirky characters. And, even though I often refer to them as “traditional mysteries” in order not to build expectations for something they’re not, I still consider them cozy mysteries.

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