Monday, November 14, 2011

Mystery Monday: What's in a Mystery? (Part 1)

Today we begin a new weekly column called Mystery Monday. Author Jenna Victoria launches the column with a delightful multi-part series.

What's in a Mystery?
by Jenna Victoria

For this, and several upcoming Mystery Monday blogs, I’ll shine a magnifying glass on fiction subgenres: Mystery, Crime, Suspense, Thriller, Police Procedural, etc. – for each has its own specific qualities and idiosyncrasies that readers expect to find within the covers. Along the way I hope to introduce you to a selection of authors who may become new favorites, and perhaps encourage you to widen the variety in your ‘to be read’ pile.

Although I devour read many categories, my top three are British police procedurals, cozies, and romantic suspense. I enjoy the first two groups especially for sentimental reasons – as my late mother was an avid mystery reader too – and I like to keep up on her favorite authors as they release new books.

This post will highlight the cozy mystery. I use cozies as a “go-to” category whenever I want a satisfying “home & hearth” whodunit. Agatha Christie was the ultimate master at crafting a cozy mystery – which features a town or area of a country that almost becomes a character in itself. These books are rarely stand-alone titles, and feature a recurring sleuth in a recurring setting, such as a bookstore or bed and breakfast. The protagonist (who always ends up solving the pending mystery) is typically a somewhat oddball amateur who is viewed by local law enforcement as a bumbling, interfering civilian who hampers their investigation. These books are always a delight, especially when the criminal gets their comeuppance from a local-grown ‘Miss Marple.’ The contents are normally sweet, non-graphic and non-titillating, which I like. What draws me to cozies, also, are the quirky and independent natures of the sleuths, and the well-developed, unusual cast of characters.

Even more enjoyable within the cozy mystery grouping, you’ll find series which feature themes (cooking, vacation, animals, professions, religion, a particular US state, senior citizens, etc.) – and this list grows substantially the more you look.

One underrated cozy author is Nancy Atherton, whose Aunt Dimity character is, well, a ghost. In sixteen books so far, Aunt D has helped the protagonist, Lori Shepherd, sort out the facts of the mystery at hand (sorry, couldn’t help the pun!) by writing comments in an heirloom notebook with invisible ink, which Lori then reads. Lori’s pink stuffed rabbit, Reginald, is another recurring character. Utterly charming! More details can be found at

Another recommended cozy author is M.C. Beaton. She also writes historical romance under the name Marion Chesney. This busy writer has two separate series featuring distinctive and very quirky protagonists (Agatha Raisin series based in England and Hamish Macbeth series based in Scotland). The Hamish books have been featured in a BBC television series and broadcast in the US on BBC America. Hamish differs from most cozy mystery protagonists in that he *is* a Scottish police officer, not an amateur – but his character is clearly such a reluctant, clumsy, inept hero – that he fits perfectly into the cozy sleuth stereotype.

Popular Christian author Lorena McCourtney writes several wonderful separate cozy series—including several that feature senior citizen sleuths such as Ivy Malone, and Andi McConnell.

I highly recommend you stop by for an exhaustive, entertaining and enlightening view of this subgenre. It features a sub-link to a list of faith-based cozies:

One last tip – why not discover if there are any mystery-specific bookstores in your area? I know that Houston has MURDER BY THE BOOK, San Francisco has “M IS FOR MYSTERY,” Seattle has SEATTLE MYSTERY BOOKSHOP - and I’ve spent many hours browsing the aisles of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City.

You’ll find hundreds of cozy books to catch up on.

Next week: The Thrill of Romantic Suspense

Jenna Victoria is an East-Coast based aspiring novelist whose articles have appeared in magazines and newspapers.  She is currently writing an inspirational romantic suspense series, and serves as President of Faith, Hope and Love, the inspirational romance chapter of Romance Writers of America.  She is also a member of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) and My Book Therapy.


Caroline said...

Jenna, I adore mysteries (etc), all kinds. Your Monday mytstery column is one I intend to catch every chance I can. Thanks!

Jenna Vi said...

Hi Caroline, aren't mysteries the BEST category of books? Smile. Thanks for the vote of confidence. I look forward to "seeing" you on the blog in the future. Happy armchair detecting!