A Short History of Traditional/Cozy Mysteries Heroines

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about how cozy or traditional mysteries have 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 the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017.


There was a time when a traditional or cozy mystery often had a ‘woman of a certain age’ as the protagonist. Miss Marple immediately jumps to mind, but she wasn’t alone. Patricia Hightower had Miss Silver, Mary Roberts Reinheart had a visiting nurse who solved crimes for the police, and of course Hamilton Crane gave us Miss Seaton. All of these women were getting along in years, none of them had married, they were all smart and they all were adroit at solving the puzzle the murder presented. Eventually, they all died out. So did the authors.

The cozy mystery heroine was replaced with a series of vibrant, pretty young things, all intent on adventure and hopefully a little romance. If they get lucky, a lot of romance. They all have titian/flame or flaxen locks, blue/brown/green eyes with long thick lashes, a wasp-like waist, full bosoms and there is not a thick ankle in the lot. They run tea shops, bakeries, second hand clothing stores, bed and breakfasts…you get the idea. A lot of them are exciting, fun companions on their story journey but some struggle with a weak story line and as time has gone on, others with a certain sameness that is a little off-putting.

Then, not too long ago, the older heroine returned. Only, she isn’t the same. The sharpness is gone, the independence, the ability to use her years of experience to solve a puzzle has disappeared. So, largely, has the puzzle. Today solving the crime is easy, and our heroine doesn’t catch the murderer with deduction but because she manages to bash him over the head with her walker or catch him in the crook of her cane.

I don’t find these kinds of books very satisfactory. These nursing home grannies make me a little nervous and a little hard to believe.  I also have reached that ‘certain age’ and am only too aware that physical limitations start to raise their unwelcome heads, making some of these stories improbable. I would find it much more interesting if these grannies solved the murder with their wits, not their canes. l appreciate a good story that keeps me guessing, that puts me on the edge of my seat, that keeps me turning the pages. And that is what I set out to write when I created the Mary McGill canine mysteries.

Mary is a retired school teacher, widowed and for some time was bored. Still full of vitality and immensely capable, she needed something challenging to do. Her small California town obliged. She now runs most of the charitable and holiday events the town hosts, and runs them well.  As it turned out, she is also pretty good at solving murders. She knows most everybody in town, knows their history, and what makes them tick. She doesn’t gossip but people tell her things, so when a person shows up someplace they would never normally go, she notices. Or, when someone keeps company with someone they normally would shy away from, she wonders.

A compassionate woman, she is always ready to lend a hand, so when the owner of the local pet store is found murdered (Purebred Dead) she takes his now homeless cocker spaniel in for a day or two. That day or two turns into forever. Mary has never had a pet so feels uneasy, but not for long. Now it is Mary and Millie who run rummage sales, put on Christmas Extravaganzas and organize the annual 4th of July celebration and solve murders.

Mary and Millie’s latest adventure, Blood Red White and Blue, is a finalist in the Dog Writers of America’s annual writing contest in the best fiction dog book of the year.

The “woman of a certain age” amateur detective has returned.