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August 14, 2007 / C.T. Henry

What the hell is a cozy?

Cozy vs Hard-boiled

Within the genre, there are sub-categories that describe certain types of mysteries. Some people like hard-boiled detective stories; others love cozies.

A cozy is the type of book that makes you want to curl up in a huge lounge chair with a steaming mug of tea or coffee. Full of clues and not with action, it is an intelligent mind game between the criminal and the detective. One of the best descriptions of a cozy comes from, in which common elements include: “a domestic setting such as a country house or quiet neighborhood; a limited roster of suspects, all part of the victim’s social circle; little or no description of violence or sex; a mildly romantic subplot; and an amateur sleuth or eccentric professional.” Except for a murder (or other crime) there is very little violence and no gory details of the crime.

Classic examples: Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle
Modern examples: Nancy Atherton, Donna Andrews, Laurie R. King, and Aaron Elkins

Almost the exact opposite of a cozy is the hard-boiled sub-genre. Originally found in “pulp” detective magazines, this popular form of crime fiction surfaced in the 1920s-1940s. Common features: “a lone-wolf private detective, cynical yet quixotic; the mean streets of the inner city; characters from both the professional criminal class and the criminally rich; and liberal additions of violent action and disassociated sex.” ( But Raymond Chandler put it best: “[Hard-boiled] characters live in a world gone wrong…and the streets are dark with something more than night.”

Classic examples: Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler
Modern examples: Bill Pronzini, Dennis Lehane, James Lee Burke, and Lawrence Block

In police procedurals, the protagonist is usually a member of the police force who uses the forensic rules of evidence and departmental procedures to solve the crime.

Classic examples: Ed McBain, Reginald Hill, and Ruth Rendell
Modern examples: Michael Connelly, Peter Robinson, Giles Blunt, Ian Rankin

In historical mysteries, the crime occurs in the past rather than in contemporary times. The mystery is usually about a period of history prior to the life of the writer who wrote it. Even though their setting would now be considered historical, classic mysteries, such as Sherlock Holmes and Poirot (which were contemporary when written), are not considered part of the historical sub-genre.

Classic examples: Ellis Peters and Elizabeth Peters
Modern examples: Charles Todd, Rhys Bowen, Lindsey Davis, David Liss, and C.J. Sansom

So what kind do YOU like?

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