Cozies vs Cutesies

At Kill Zone Blog, a discussion of a distinction I’ve never thought of before: Cozies vs. Cutesies

Someone wrote in to Kill Zone Blog, which as you know mainly focuses on mysteries and thrillers, with the following request:

“It might be good for TKZ to address what defines a true cozy, as opposed to a ‘cutesie,’ and how to market true cozies. I’m having trouble figuring out the cozy genre. What I’m writing is neither thriller nor police procedural nor hard-boiled. But it sure ain’t what I call ‘cutesies’–novels that start with a silly pun in the title, usually having to do with food or animals or Amish, that have a cartoonish cover, and that go downhill from there into worse silliness…”

I may never have thought of any mystery as a “Cutesy” before, but I’ve seen the type. Not that I mind a Cozy mystery where the protagonist is a veterinarian; I’m reading one of those now. Also: an emphasis on food is just fine with me. Sometimes it seems as though you can recognize a Cozy mystery because it has recipes in the back; for example the Wisteria Teahouse cozies by Patrice Greenwood, a series that I like quite a bit.

Some of the reasons I like Patrice Greenwood’s series:

a) The protagonist is not an idiot, and does not idiotically put herself in danger all the time.

b) The primary and secondary characters have some depth; so does the setting.

c) The writing is good; also, the style is not light, fluffy, or humorous. There are no puns. Underlying themes are serious. Important things that happen in one book continue to affect characters in the subsequent books.

d) The romance is not front and center; but as it becomes more important, both the protagonist and the male lead take the relationship seriously.

e) The focus on the occupation (running the tearoom) is indeed interesting.

I would say that Greenwood’s series is definitely Cozy, but not Cutesy.

On the other hand, it’s true that some Cozies slide right down a slippery slope into overly cute.

Elaine Viets at Kill Zone Blog says:

First, what is a cozy?
A cozy is usually a mystery with no graphic sex, cuss words or violence. Generally, the murder takes place offstage. Dame Agatha is the queen of cozies, but Miss Marple is no pushover. “I am Nemesis,” the fluffy old lady announces, and relentlessly pursues killers….

The “cutesies” that you object to are simply one branch of the cozy sub-genre.
The so-called “cutesies” exist for one reason: They sell. Amazon does not waste space on books that don’t move. Many readers love to read about knitters, cookie bakers, candy makers and florists who solve murders. In fact, the more arcane the sleuth’s profession, the better. There are cozies about pickle shops, jam shops, antique shops, plus tea, chocolate and coffee shops galore.

I will pause here to say: Pickle shops? There is actually such a thing in this world as a pickle shop? Wow, who knew.

Also, I must point out that OBVIOUSLY Amazon is happy to publish as many books that don’t sell as writers are willing to produce. OBVIOUSLY virtual space is not a limiting resource. It’s axiomatic that many self-published books are terrible and many, perhaps most, self-published books don’t sell enough copies to mention. So that is a silly comment. Viets is mainly focusing on traditionally published authors and is actually thinking of publishing houses and physical bookstores, not Amazon.

Viets then goes on a long digression about the marginalization of female authors . . . of romances . . . which seems rather off-topic and also, seriously? The entire Romance genre gets almost as little respect as Westerns, but I would hardly expect to find that within Romance, female authors are marginalized. In fact, I know of men writing under feminine pseudonyms because they’re writing Romances.

Viets does then go on to say:

Some cozies are pure fluff. I don’t read them. But cozies are good ways to explore other occupations and hobbies – hence the knitting and tea shop mysteries – as well as relationships. Women seem to demand this dimension more in their reading than men.

I have no objection to pure fluff, though I must admit too much silliness in any genre means I personally do lose interest. But I do like the focus on different occupations. I’m not sure I had considered that a key feature of Cozies, but maybe it is. It’s certainly an element I like. Viets suggests a couple Cozies with “real meat to them,” but I’m actually more interested in the Cozy vs Cutesy distinction. She doesn’t do much with that.

So let’s see. I think I would define Cozies as mysteries that lack blood and gore, probably don’t have much profanity, are not too tense, generally set in a small town, generally involve a female business owner who becomes romantically involved with a cop, and often feature animals or food or books along with or as part of a focus on the business.

Then within that subgenre, you do get novels that are cutesy and contrived, though how much of that is too much is surely up to each individual reader. But a Cozy with a particularly light, humorous style and no particular thematic depth would probably count as a Cutesy.

But here’s my quick definition: aside from style and quality, any Cozy that is also a romantic comedy is probably a Cutesy. We can define Cutesies that way: as Cozy Mysteries that are also Romantic Comedies. What do you think? Does that sound plausible?

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3 thoughts on “Cozies vs Cutesies”

  1. I don’t know about pickle shops, but I’m on holiday in Spain at the moment and I’ve seen several olive shops (mostly also selling pickles, marinated fish, etcetera).

  2. I’m fascinated that Agatha Christie is considered ‘cosy’. If all that’s required to be cosy is a lack of detailed descriptions of sex and violence, then I guess Rex Stout is ‘cosy’ too.

  3. A good reason to define “Cozy” more rigorously, because that would be nuts. I’m not all that well acquainted with Agatha Christie, but definitely Rex Stout was not writing Cozies. I think I’m sticking to my definition of not-too-stressful-mystery-that-is-also-a-romantic-comedy.

    Is it possible for a Cozy mystery to have a male protagonist?

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