What is a Cozy Mystery? Everything You Need to Know

Nicole Ahlering
September 08, 2023 | 4 mins

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If you browse the mystery section of your favorite bookstore, you’ll see novels with incongruous titles like “Two Parts Sugar, One Part Murder” and “Beachfront Bakery: A Killer Cupcake.” 

Though these covers may make you chuckle, these authors know what they’re doing. They’ve tapped into a type of fiction genre that many folks love: the cozy mystery. 

Which begs the question: What is a cozy mystery?

Keep reading to find out.

Cozy mystery definition 

This might be a new type of book genre (or more accurately, subgenre) you're getting acquainted with. Welcome! Unlike its more grisly counterparts, the cozy mystery tends to be low on disturbing elements like violence or gore. Often, the reader will never learn the details of the crime that transpired.

Instead, the emphasis is on the puzzle-like process of solving the mystery, delving into the intricacies of character motivation that drive the actions. The mystery is often a murder, but it can also be an abduction, blackmail, or sabotage, for example. 

In many of these novels, the person solving the crime is an amateur who works with a cast of quirky characters to get to the bottom of things. 

These books nearly always have happy endings, a whimsical tone and an endearing theme—like baking or gardening. 

If you’re looking for inspiration to write your own cozy mystery, check out the following beloved series: 

  • A Friend For Hire Mystery Series by Laura Bradford 
  • Hungarian Teahouse Mysteries by Julia Buckley 
  • Paws and Claws Mystery Series by Krista Davis 
  • Grilled Cheese Mysteries by Linda Reilly 
  • Blue Ridge Library Mystery Series by Victoria Gilbert

Whether you’re interested in books that combine crime with coffee, crafts, bed-and-breakfasts or any other quaint thing you can think of, there’s a novel waiting for you to read.

Common elements of the cozy mystery

There are no hard-and-fast requirements for a cozy mystery novel, other than—of course—a secret to be solved and a comforting vibe. 

That said, many of the most successful cozy mysteries have the same elements: 

  • A small-town setting. Nothing says “cozy” like a tight-knit community, charming old architecture and a slower pace of life. (Plus, nothing helps the plot along like a group of characters who know one another.) 
  • A main character who’s never done this before. At least in the first novel of most cozy series, our protagonist is not a professional sleuth. Instead, she—yes, it’s typically a woman—is a baker, librarian or something else unrelated to mystery-solving. 
  • A convenient side character. Our main character may not be a detective character, a policeman or a judge, but do you know who is? Her parent, partner or next-door neighbor. Helpful! 
  • An easy-to-love protagonist. The sleuth in a cozy mystery doesn’t resemble the hard-boiled fictional detectives in conventional mystery novels or series. Instead, the gumshoe in a cozy novel is bright, warm and inquisitive (without a dark side). 
  • A quick-moving plot. Most folks read cozy mysteries for a quick hit of satisfaction, not deep intellectual stimulation. That means twists and turns are frequent and the plot moves at a fast clip. These novels are also relatively short. Often, a carefully crafted inciting incident drives these quick-moving plots.
  • Kids and animals remain unharmed. Have you ever had a warm-and-fuzzy feeling from a book where the dog dies? We didn’t think so. 
  • Good-natured humor. Many people read cozy mysteries as an escape from their real lives, so don’t be afraid to make them smile. (Just be sure to keep your jokes PG.) 
  • Elements of romance. It’s not required for your character to fall in love, but it’s nice when they do! As with all elements of a cozy mystery, you’ll want to keep any romance scenes appropriate for younger readers. 
  • A healthy detachment from the victim. If you paint an intimate and adoring portrait of a book's victim, readers will mourn their loss. Sadness isn’t the point of a cozy mystery. Enjoyment is. So keep the victim’s story engaging, but not tragic.
  • Cutesy details. Anything that makes the reader say “aww” is fair game. Cuddly puppies, elaborate baked goods and quaint locations all figure prominently in the cozy mystery. Often, so does delicious food. 

Related: How to Write a Cozy Mystery

The cozy mystery: Key takeaways

While the cozy mystery has crime at its core, it never leaves the reader uneasy. Instead, it’s a charming reprieve from the trials of daily life. Heartwarming elements and “clean” content make it enjoyable for readers of all ages. 

These books are page-turners with gentle humor, plenty of red herrings and a brisk plot. Often, they make for successful book series

If you’re ready to write your own cozy mystery, head to SelfPublishing.com. We're standing by to help you make your dream book a reality.

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