For­get cold hard

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - BOOKS -

For­get New Year res­o­lu­tions, fight the cold bleak months of win­ter with a good dose of Cozy Crime, writes Anne Marie Scan­lon

JAN­UARY is, with­out doubt, the most dis­mal month of the year. Tra­di­tion­ally a time of empty pock­ets and tight waist­bands, we make things even worse by pun­ish­ing our­selves with self-de­nial and res­o­lu­tions we can’t keep.

Those with the cash es­cape to warmer weather but you don’t need to jump on a jet to find so­lace in the long dark cold nights. A ‘Cozy Crime’ mys­tery does ex­actly what it says on the la­bel and ban­ishes the bleaks.

The ‘Cozy’ is a sub­genre which, un­like much mod­ern crime fic­tion, doesn’t grab head­lines. De­spite the lack of pub­lic­ity, Co­zies reg­u­larly ap­pear on the best-seller lists, al­though a con­sis­tent def­i­ni­tion of what con­sti­tutes one is elu­sive.

Mys­tery au­thor Amanda Fowler de­scribes the genre as hav­ing “an am­a­teur sleuth, an un­sus­pect­ing vic­tim, a quirky sup­port­ing cast and a trail of clues and red her­rings”.

Ca­tri­ona Mcpher­son, au­thor of the Dandy Gil­ver books, has a sim­pler ex­pla­na­tion — “some­one gets killed but no one gets harmed”.

I asked Mcpher­son why such a pop­u­lar genre hadn’t gar­nered more at­ten­tion. Mcpher­son thinks there are two is­sues, one be­ing sex­ism. Cozy Crime, like tra­di­tional Golden Age Crime, is penned mainly by women and the de­ri­sion aimed at it echoes that usu­ally re­served for tra­di­tional ro­mance.

Se­condly, Mcpher­son says, the name it­self lacks “cool” and “is prob­lem­atic. You do hear a lot of peo­ple deny­ing that their books are ‘Co­zies’, in­sist­ing they’re called ‘tra­di­tional mys­tery’”.

Many Cozy Crime stories, like Mcpher­son’s Dandy Gil­ver se­ries, The County Guides se­ries by Ian San­som and the Kate Shack­le­ton mys­ter­ies by Frances Brody are all set dur­ing the ‘Golden Age’ pe­riod and fea­ture coun­try houses, pic­turesque towns, vil­lage fetes, posh peo­ple and clever plots. The set­tings are in­ti­mate, with a lim­ited amount of char­ac­ters and sus­pects.

The joy of these books is that, al­though it is fun to read them in se­quence, they all work well as stand­alone nov­els.

Ban­gor-based Ian San­som has cre­ated a Holme­sian-style char­ac­ter with Swan­ton Mor­ley, the ‘Peo­ple’s Pro­fes­sor’ in the, to date, four County Guide nov­els (Fourth Es­tate), all set in the 1930s and nar­rated by the char­ac­ter Stephen Sefton who is a vet­eran of the Span­ish Civil War.

The lat­est Dandy Gil­ver es­capade A Step So Grave (Hod­der & Stoughton €29.39) is her 13th out­ing hav­ing gone from a new bride strug­gling to make sense of the af­ter­math of World War I to now be­ing a mother-in-law fear­ing the com­ing of an­other cat­a­clysmic war. In true ‘Classic’ style, the ac­tion all takes place in a ‘Big Hoose’ (while Dandy is English she’s mar­ried to a Scot) on an is­land. The is­lan­ders, in­clud­ing the in­hab­i­tants of the Big Hoose, all speak Scots Gaelic and fer­vently be­lieve in pre-chris­tian su­per­sti­tions which are seam­lessly wo­ven through­out the plot.

Sim­i­larly, Kate Shack­le­ton’s lat­est out­ing, her 10th, in A Snapshot of Mur­der (Pi­atkus, €12.99) is set in 1928. The de­tec­tive’s pho­tog­ra­phy so­ci­ety has taken a trip to Ha­worth for the open­ing of the Bronte home when one of their num­ber is mur­dered in plain sight. Like Mcpher­son, Brody man­ages to weave in plenty of facts, which will amuse Bronte fans.

For mod­ern read­ers, the his­tor­i­cal Co­zies rep­re­sent the best of both worlds as we get the at­mos­phere and set­ting of a classic, added hu­mour and none of the ca­sual racism, sex­ism and anti-semitism that jar so much when you come across them un­ex­pect­edly in a Golden Age novel.

Then there are the nov­els that are his­tor­i­cal Co­zies with a twist. Some char­ac­ters are too beloved to die — even when the au­thor has. Dorothy L Say­ers’s aris­to­cratic de­tec­tive Lord

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