Wednesday, September 24, 2008

An Unhealthy Hobby

by Diana Killian

By en large cozy mysteries are the domain of the amateur sleuth. Private eye novels and police procedurals can be soft-boiled, but rarely are they actually cozy. The notion of solving crime for a living is not a warm and fuzzy one.

This is not to say that all cozies are brainless tales held together by gimmicks and recipes; the contemporary cozy can — and should — have something relevant to say. But the message is toned down; cozy readers don’t need to be hit over the head (they prefer that to happen off-stage and to someone else).

Ideally the amateur sleuth is an average person who gets sucked into extraordinary circumstances — which murder usually is. Of course, in a cozy series this average person gets sucked into that violent whirlpool again and again…to the point we all have to wonder just how “average” our small town librarian really is. What is it that attracts murder to that candlemaker/gardener/bookstore owner/chef/teacher? The neighbors are most surely whispering to each other behind those white picket fences.

Obviously writers give a lot of thought to the careers they bestow upon their amateur sleuths. Common sense dictates that you want them working with the public to the extent that it will be reasonable for them to fall over bodies in the course of their duties. “Reasonable” being relative because most B&B and shoppe owners do not discover bodies…ever.

But I notice as a reader I have certain preferences and turn offs in career choices for the protags of books I read. For example, a writer, teacher or bookstore owner/employee is always a plus for me. Cooking is interesting — maybe because I’m so bad at it in real life. Gardening and landscaping seem interesting. Artists, yes. Musicians…maybe. That’s a tricky one. Doctors, lawyers, and any kind of business executive all strike me as dull. Not that I won’t read a book that sounds interesting if the protag is a doctor, but it’s not a selling point for me.

So what about you? Does the career choice of the cozy sleuth matter to you? Do you have preferences? Does the character’s day job have to tie into the mystery-solving elements of the story – especially in a long-running story? Any jobs you’d like to see that haven’t been done? Anything seem overused to you?