Monday, June 27, 2011

Wimsey in the News: The dynamics of cozy mystery books The dynamics of cozy mystery books
There is a set of mystery readers who endlessly look for books like Agatha Christie’s. Christie-like books, called the Cozy Mysteries or “Cozies,” are lightweight and fun mysteries mostly devoured by women.

Here, the murders are civilised, the setting is small town and the sleuth is usually amateur. There is neither gory violence nor graphic sex.

The crime is neatly solved and good triumphs over evil. They also usually have a woman in the lead and detail in minutiae the towns in which they are set.

Along with Agatha Christie, three other women writers — Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, and Margery Allingham —wrote a plethora of Cozies in the 1920s.

The most popular among them is undoubtedly Agatha Christie and the one who has almost vanished from the scene is Allingham. Christie’s two popular sleuths — Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple have stolen readers’ hearts for many decades.

Christie started using psychological analysis and logical deduction to solve crime rather than using the obvious blood-and-cigar trails that were the norm till then. Almost as prolific as Christie was Ngaio Marsh with 32 novels featuring policeman detective Roderick Alleyn. Dorothy Sayers has penned 16 novels with a suave detective, Peter Wimsey.

At one time, all mysteries from Perry Mason to Sherlock Homes were Cozy mysteries. But later, as mysteries started getting more hard-boiled, Cozies have become mostly by women for women. The most popular contemporary writer of the genre has to be Mary Higgins Clark. She has written nearly 40 books, some in collaboration with her daughter Carol Higgins Clark. Then there is Janet Evanowich, Charlaine Harris, Rita Mae Brown, and Lilian Richards enjoying a fair share of success writing their Cozies.

Alexander McCall Smith is the most well-known male writer. He has created a most enjoyable series The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, set in Botswana. Not very popular in India, but a bestselling American mystery series with an even more popular TV tie-in is Murder, She Wrote by Donald Bain. People know Jessica Fletcher, his protagonist of the series, a lot better than the author himself!

Among Indian writers, yesteryears have seen the Feluda series by Satyajit Ray and the Byomkesh Bakshi ones by Saradindu Bandopadhyay. More recently, Kalpana Swaminathan’s Lalli Mysteries make an interesting read. But the one book recently released that snugly fits the bill of a Cozy is Suparna Chatterjee’s All Bengali Crime Detectives. Four retired men, endearing in their own ways, solve a neighbourhood crime. Suparna brings Calcutta to life through her protagonists.

Young-Adult girl fiction comprises of love stories or fantasies and not many mysteries. However, not all girls like girly tomes. Cozy mysteries do not have much boy appeal with their gentle themes, but they certainly make a good read for mystery-loving girls as young as even 12 years old.

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