Let’s Get a Little Civilized

Our local newspaper had an article about a woman who’d been under a lot of stress who took comfort in reading cozy mysteries. I have to say, a nice, personal murder always puts me in a better mood:) And not because of the murder. That’s just the event that propels the character studies for the rest of the book. Because, to me, cozies are just as much about the why as the whodunnit. They’re puzzles, mind games, and those are fun. I mean, what’s more settling than an afternoon tea and a cozy?

I love mysteries in general, but let’s face it, each sub-category of mystery appeals for different reasons. Thrillers are just that. They thrill. They’re page turners because the stakes are high. Women in jeopardy make our pulses pound because a good woman goes up against a bad villain and has to win…or else. Police procedures intrigue me for a different reason. They feel like I’m getting a peek into the steps a cop might use to solve a murder. And sometimes I get a glimpse of a cop’s life, which makes me grateful any person chooses that job as a profession, because they see the worst of the worst. Sordid things I try to avoid. I know cops are under a lot of scrutiny now, but I sure wouldn’t want their job. And, as in most things, there are a lot more good cops than bad ones. But that holds true of almost everything. I know I’m an optimist by nature, but I truly believe there’s more good in the world than bad, and the same holds true for every profession I can think of. There always has to be a clinker, but that’s because we’re all human.

Anyway, back to mysteries. I enjoy cozies because the murder in the story is personal. It’s not random or misplaced violence like we read about in the newspaper almost every day. Cozies are a matter of cause and effect. A person, who is generally considered a GOOD person, feels so threatened or desperate–or so ill used–that they kill another human being to feel secure again. Okay, I guess I need to add in greedy, because money’s a great motivation, too, but most of the time, the killer feels WRONGED. He considers the murder essential to making things right again. He believes that the person he kills deserves to die, even if that person isn’t the one who committed the sin. The old Bible saying that the sins of the fathers (or mothers) are born by their children holds true in cozies.

There’s a long list of motivations that work in this scenario: vengeance, a child who’s passed over and raised in poverty or misery who blames someone for what happened, love gone wrong, a woman scorned–you name it. The difference between most newspaper headlines and a cozy is that the murder is clever. I went to a mystery conference once where a detective told us that most criminals aren’t very smart, and unfortunately, I think that might be true. It’s not true in cozies, however. The killer has thought about it a long time. He’s smart. It’s personal. And not random or gory.

One of the most important things about a cozy, though, is that the killer is always discovered and almost always has to pay for what he/she has done. There are a few exceptions, of course. Hercule Poirot, who abhors murder, doesn’t turn in the killers on The Orient Express. He considers that justice has been done. And that’s the key. Cozies are more about justice than the law. It’s Karma. Evil is punished. The balance between Good and Evil is restored. And that’s what’s so satisfying about reading a cozy.

In some mysteries, like The Silence of the Lambs, the villain almost becomes as interesting as the protagonist. Some mysteries have anti-heroes or criminals as protagonists. Not cozies. Like in old Westerns, there are the good guys and the bad guys. The good guys wear invisible white hats, and the bad guys are symbolically dressed in black. And the good guys always win. Not always so in real life, but a must in a cozy. And that’s why they bring me so much comfort.

3 thoughts on “Let’s Get a Little Civilized

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