The Hook

Kathleen Delaney with Books 2Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today with her thoughts on what makes cozy mysteries so appealing and how they’ve changed since Miss Marple’s day .

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in a new series, will be out in August 2015.

Cozy mysteries have been around since Agatha Christie started turning them out during the early nineteen hundreds. They’ve changed since then but still retain the same central core. Not too much blood, sex remains firmly behind closed doors, and the thrust of the story is who committed murder and why.

Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple knew everyone in her village, knew their parents and their children. She was a keen observer of human nature and a great listener. She also expected the worst of everyone and was rarely disappointed. The combination of village life and Miss Marple’s assessment of the people in it while she knitted garment after garment was The Hook. I don’t think Agatha used that term, but it was what made us come back, story after story.

Cozies are still grounded in one place, usually in a small town, and always with a small cast of characters who know each other well. Sometimes too well. Publishers want their heroine-it is almost always a heroine- to be an integral part of the community, as was Miss Marple, with the mystery revolving around the part she plays in that community. Only, today we have heroines who run flower shops, bakeries, tea shops, herb shops, catering businesses and quilting stores. They are real estate salespeople, sheriffs or mayors in small towns, have dead end jobs, clean houses, teach fly fishing—maybe not fly fishing. The murders, all the conflict in the story, swirl around their jobs or professions. The combination of that and what happens while they’re doing them pulls us back into their world again and again, wanting to see what happens next.

That is The Hook. But wait, there’s more.

In a cozy mystery the setting is not only worked into the story line but subtly imparts information. Herbs and what they do for, or possibly, to you, quilt patterns and the history behind them, a behind the scenes look at how bakeries turn out those delicious delights, how wineries turn grapes into wine. These are the little added things that make the modern cozy not only fun but interesting on a whole new level. Miss Marple may have knitted a mean sweater and listened to everything everyone in her village had to say but she never gave us a knitting pattern nor took us down the aisle of the local dog show.

Murder by SyllabubI’ve tried to add some of those “behind the scenes” tidbits in the Ellen McKenzie real estate mysteries. I’ve touched on real estate development in a small town, talked about breeding and showing of Arabian horses, murdered a chef by dropping him into a wine fermenting tank, (the wine in that tank didn’t get bottled but you get a pretty good tour of the wine cellar floor while looking for clues) and explored the kitchen and all of its equipment in a small local bakery.

It’s in the fifth book in the Ellen McKenzie series, though, where I have really explored the possibilities of setting.

Murder by Syllabub finds Ellen McKenzie and her aunt, Mary McGill, in Virginia, learning how to bake a cake in a fireplace, roast a stuffed chicken on a spit and how to make Syllabub, while they track down a murdering colonial ghost.

Where else but in a cozy mystery could you learn all these things, have fun, and solve a murder at the same time?

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5 thoughts on “The Hook

  1. Kathleen, I enjoyed reading “Murder by Syllabub.” Great book!
    In my own Malone Mystery series, my main character starts out as a housewife, one of the most difficult “jobs” in the world, but soon takes a paid position at a local costume shop. Some consider my series to be cozies; others disagree. For me, the definition of a cozy is about the “feel” of the book and the omission of explicit sex and violence.

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  2. So glad you like Syllabub. I agree with you, its the feel and of course no explicit sex or violence. Of course, murder is always violent, but not the fourteen bullet holes in the back kind. I think ‘cozy: means its about people who know each other, motives are more personal, interaction between the characters is important, nothing random, but events spring out of their relationships. Thanks, Patricia

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  3. I take my time reading your stories, Kathy, and that way it’s like living them. After all, the friends I make through your books wouldn’t want me to be underfoot day and night, would they? So I just visit them to catch up on news and that makes it so much more fun. I’m turning the last few pages of MbS and will soon say goodbye to Williamsburg and the old Virginia mansions.

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