Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was just released.
Years ago, there was a picture book about two mouse cousins. One lived an elegant life in the city, the other lived a plainer life in the country. One day the country mouse joined her cousin in the city. She loved the lights, the excitement, the rich food, but pretty soon the stress of avoiding the traffic, the noise, the overly rich food, got the better of her, and she went home. Not sure what the moral was, but it did shine a light on the difference between city life and life in a small town.
The debate about which life is better continues today although I doubt among mice. But people often weigh the merits of one or the other. Cities are expensive, dirty, noisy, sometimes dangerous, and mostly impersonal. Small towns are…small. People know each other, houses are set on quiet tree lined streets, the people in the bank and the grocery know you by name, know your family and your dog. And, they often know your secrets. Small towns are not impersonal.
It all boils down to what you like, what is important to you. If you like restaurants with an extensive wine list, you may have a hard time finding that in a small town. Unless you’re in California’s wine country. You’ll be a long way from museums, live theater, Nordstroms. Your social life might center around church bingo night instead of the karaoke bar and live theater means the middle school’s presentation of Cats. Not quite like the Broadway production but if your kid’s one of the cats, you probably won’t care.
But the lines have blurred. I’ve lived in cities and in small towns, and I’ve watched that happen. My little town in California, upon which I’ve based my books, grew from being a cow town to one of California’s premier wine regions. Tourists now flock to it, the wine lists are extensive, the olive oil supreme, so are the cheeses, but somehow it is still a small town. Cow pastures are now covered in grape vines, the hills are dotted with wineries, but the things that attract people to small towns, the essential things, remain. People are friendly, welcoming. They want to know your name, where you came from, and they hope you like their town. I’ve never had one person ask my name in New York, except maybe a traffic cop when I ended up going the wrong way on a one way street. The downtown shops are small, the merchandise invites browsing, so does the city park. The sense of the town is you have all the time in the world and that’s it a friendly, safe place to be.
And that, dear friends, is why most cozy mysteries are set in small towns. But, beware. Behind all those friendly faces, those tidy yards and freshly painted front doors, murder lurks. Big cities have no corner on that particular market. It’s just that small towns do it differently. No, or almost no drive by shootings, or turf gang wars. Very few drug busts that go wrong, and very little armed robbery. No, murder in small towns is personal.
In a small town, reputation is everything. Much of the population has known each other for generations. They know what your grandfather did, and if what he did was against the law, or wrong in some other way, they not only know, they don’t forget. Protecting your or your family’s reputation can, and sometimes does, result in murder. Then there’s revenge. A grudge can be held in a small town for generations before it erupts violently.
And, of course, we can’t forget jealousy. In small towns jealousy can also be more personal, sometimes something as simple as an award not won at the flower show, or not being elected president of the Rotary.
But we mustn’t forget money. In Curtains for Miss Plym, the missing money of an elderly, somewhat confused old lady is at the heart of the mystery and the murder and the main suspects seem to be family. But that wouldn’t happen in the city…or would it?
Maybe there isn’t much difference between the City Mouse and the Country Mouse after all.