Julia Chapman, author of Date with Death, the first novel in a brilliant new crime series set in the Yorkshire Dales, recommends a few of her all-time favourite cosy crime novels.
Providing tension aplenty without the terror, in these troubled times cosy crime is riding high. From reissues of Margaret Allingham or the British Library Crime Classics in their stunning covers, on to the modern-day revival spearheaded by the likes of Alexander McCall Smith, it seems a softer version of crime does pay.
But what is it about the genre that is attracting readers?
Ask many a fan of the gentler end of the crime spectrum and they’ll tell you that they prefer a whodunit where the only glimpse of red is the herrings woven into the action rather than the gore of blood spilled across the pages; a mystery where the puzzle of identifying the perpetrator is more important than a forensically precise description of the bullet wound.
A form of escapism, then, in a world growing ever more cynical? But that’s too simple for there are darker edges to be had too – Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike
isn’t exactly the most carefree of souls. Nor is the world of Gil North’s Sergeant Cluff
(see below) all sweetness and light.
For me as an author, there are two key ingredients that make cosy crime beguiling. The first is the thrill of the mystery; the opportunity to decipher the clues without the distractions of bloodshed and brutality.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good thriller and am a keen reader of less ‘comfy’ types of crime. But there is something ultimately satisfying about sleuthing in the company of remarkable characters, pitting one’s wits against the likes of Hercule Poirot or Mma Precious Ramotswe. They are good companions to spend time with – both as a reader and as a writer. I happen to think that’s quite important. After all, if I have to spend most of my working hours in the company of the characters I’m creating, I’d quite like to enjoy hanging out with them!
And the second essential element? I like my crime with a dose of laughter. It doesn’t have to be in the realms of that music hall classic, The Laughing Policeman
– although that song still sets me off! – but an equal mix of dark and light is appreciated. A bit like a perfect box of chocolates! You can’t get much cosier than that.
Here’s a small sample of cosy crime novels I’ve devoured and enjoyed:
Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels
I stumbled across these in the late 90s and howled my way through the Trenton, New Jersey set books, relishing the mishaps of Stephanie Plum and her gun-toting grandma. Evanovich turned cosy crime on its head, showing that the satire of Agatha Christie could be replaced with slapstick to great success. And I love a bit of slapstick.
Keith McCafferty's Sean Stranahan Mysteries
I don’t even remember how I came across these but the setting is fantastic. Against a backdrop of the Montana mountains, fly-fishing guide and one-time detective Stranahan gets embroiled in solving crime alongside the local sheriff, Martha Ettinger. A fine example of how scenery can become a character in itself.
Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily Mysteries
Another series with a great setting – this time historical. Based in Victorian England, Lady Emily Ashton not only fights crime but also the social constrictions placed on women at the time. A really interesting combination of sleuthing and social politics.
Gil North's The Methods of Sergeant Cluff
Reissued this year to commemorate the centenary of his birth, North’s books are darker than your traditional fare. Set in Skipton, the self-proclaimed gateway to the Dales where my series is set, they depict a bleak yet fascinating mill town, the ragged fells beyond as forbidding and unknowable as the bluff sergeant himself. While on the extreme edge of cosiness, North’s books offer a true Yorkshire twist on the genre.
Finally, the Queen of Cosy, Agatha Christie. I have to confess here – quietly, as it may well get me banned from the genre for life! – that I’m not a die-hard Christie fan. But The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
is one of those rare books that woke me up in the middle of the night as my slumbering consciousness solved the mystery. The technique Christie employed was simple yet stunning and is still being copied today.
Julia Chapman's Date with Death, the first novel in the Dales Detective Series, is out now.
Samson O'Brien has been dismissed from the police force, and returns to his hometown of Bruncliffe in the Yorkshire Dales to set up the Dales Detective Agency while he fights to clear his name. However, the people of Bruncliffe aren't that welcoming to a man they see as trouble.
Delilah Metcalfe, meanwhile, is struggling to keep her business, the Dales Dating Agency, afloat - as well as trying to control her wayward Weimaraner dog, Tolpuddle. Then when Samson gets his first case, investigating the supposed suicide of a local man, things take an unexpected turn, and soon he discovers a trail of deaths that lead back to the door of Delilah's agency.
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