How do you read your cosy crime? Erin Britton explains…

Article published on April 21, 2017.

Whether electronic or paper-based, I like my crime cosy…

Reading the recent articles by Gill and Reg has got me thinking, not just about the books versus e-books debate, but also about how reading tastes evolve, as well as the choices that we make [consciously or otherwise] when it comes to reading matter. As the owner of one dated, second-hand Kindle containing 12 e-books and somewhere over 1800 print books, I guess my choice regarding format was made long ago, albeit mostly subliminally. While I would say that I’m more interested in the content of a book than in the format it comes in, I seem to have, without even thinking about the whys and wherefores, a distinct preference for physical books.

A similar kind of inherent preference seems to exist in relation to subject matter, although it is arguably far more malleable. People often seem to have favourite genres that they are extremely loyal to (perhaps particularly so in the case of sci fi and crime fiction fans), but there’s always the possibility that a new reading obsession will take root. For instance, sometime early last year, while volunteering for a local charity bookshop, I was exercising my make-work skills by ensuring that all the books in the crime section were lined up so that their spines were exactly a centimetre from the front of the shelf when I came upon a book entitled The Cat in a Jewelled Jumpsuit. Of course, what right-minded person wouldn’t be intrigued by such a title? I had to immediately stop what I was doing (in fairness, the world kept spinning) and start reading it. That serendipitous discovery marks the point at which I fell down the cosy crime rabbit hole.

I read non-fiction for a living and, after having historically favoured rather self-consciously weighty tomes for my leisure-time reads, I do now enjoy relaxing while puzzling over a good mystery. However, I generally prefer the complex plotting and intriguing characterisation of Golden Age crime fiction to more contemporary books. I’m also more of a dog person than a cat person. Yet, there was something about the notion of a subgenre of crime dedicated to cats who solve mysteries that really appealed to me. Admittedly, I did perhaps first start hunting out such titles (moving from Murder, She Meowed to The Cat Who Saw Red then Faux Paw and so on) in the interests of amusement, but I soon grew rather fond of them. And these cat-centric mysteries eventually led me to discover the joys of cosy crime more generally.

Cosy crime novels are typically set in idealised small towns where nothing bad ever really happens, save for fairly regular gore-free murders. Everyone in such books is on the whole lovely, except for one or two homicidal folk who still have redeeming qualities such as running quaint craft shops, baking exceeding nice cakes, or being founts of local knowledge. There’s very little swearing, even less bonking, and absolutely no littering. Fairly early on, just after the central character’s quirkiness has been demonstrated (and often after their beloved pet has been introduced), a recent arrival in town/local recluse/old acquaintance from high school is murdered and our heroine (there must be some heroes too, although I can’t think of any at the moment) takes it upon herself to investigate.

Following the charming, bumbling, yet ultimately successful deductive processes of these everywoman sleuths is strangely compelling. The suspect pool is usually relatively small and the reasoning behind the murder(s) fairly clear-cut, so the mystery is fun to puzzle out without being overly taxing. In fact, cosy crime has proved the perfect genre to unwind with and I’ve become a total convert to murderous life in the slow lane without ever intending to do so. I’m not sure what the fact that eight of my 12 e-books are cosy crime novels indicates, that is, whether their relative impermanence and anonymity has some greater psychological significance, but that’s a subject for another day.

Erin Britton, April 2017

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