The Top Ten Cozy Mysteries…
Choosing the Top Ten of anything at my age is a tough assignment. Especially when it comes to books, any kind of books, let alone so-called “cozy” mysteries. I started reading adult fiction when I was ten. Back then, my genre of choice was mystery.
Until then, I had read only one Nancy Drew and thought she was a self-righteous, upper-middle-class snob. I’d liked the Cherry Ames nurse stories because the heroine had flaws (minor, but still…she seemed human), but later in the series, there was an authorial change and I didn’t care for the newcomer’s style.
Okay, you may be sensing that I already knew I was going to be a writer and you’re on target. Long before that, though, when I switched to adult fiction, I began with one of my mother’s favorite mystery authors, the American writer Mary Roberts Rinehart. Yes, her writing may seem a bit old-fashioned in the 21st century, but that’s part of the charm. The characters are often wealthy and the women faint a lot. Still, the mysteries keep the reader guessing. The Great Mistake, The Yellow Room, and The Album, which I’m currently rereading, are among her best works.
Rinehart preceded Agatha Christie by almost twenty years, but the transition to an English writer seemed natural to me in my early teens. How to choose Christie favorites? That’s difficult. There were rare occasions when I figured out the killer’s identity, and there was also the disaster with one of Christie’s classics, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. To my great dismay, the cover copy on the edition I had gave the solution away. Maybe the easiest way here is to take one Hercule Poirot and one Miss Jane Marple.
I’ve always liked the opening of The Murder in the Library, not only for Miss Marple’s involvement, but for Dolly and Arthur Bantry, the friends who seek her help. This one had me guessing all the way.
It’s even harder to choose a favorite with Poirot. The most recent one (I wait until I’ve forgotten whodunit before I re-read a mystery) is The Hollow. It’s a post-WWII book with the little Belgian in supposed decline, but Christie is in top form. It’s also one of her more suspenseful works.
Oddly enough, my other two favorites are Americans who use British settings. The first is John Dickson Carr, who was born in Pennsylvania, but in later years chose to live in England. Some will quibble with my use of the term cozy for his novels, but since he was the master of the Locked Room puzzler, what could be cozier than that? I honestly can’t choose which of his books I liked the best. What is amazing about his books is how he could play upon the same theme of the locked room and still have so many variations. I tried it once in Major Vices and it worked, but I’d never attempt it again.
My other favorite author is Martha Grimes. Okay, maybe her books are more police procedurals than cozy mysteries. But the Richard Jury/Melrose Plant characters are too witty to be described adequately with that cheerless literary tag. Some of the funniest scenes I’ve ever read this side of Evelyn Waugh were written by Grimes. A postscript here: The first one I read was the second book in the series. When I got to the final page, I was bewildered by the last lines. I didn’t find out why until I read the first book. I’m not saying my Bed and Breakfast books have to be read in order, but it’s the best way to get to know the characters.
Now I have to make a confession. After I started writing my two cozy series, I discovered that when I read contemporary works in the genre, I began to edit them mentally as I went along. This was not only unfair to the authors but to me. Suddenly I had turned a great pleasure into an arduous chore. It’s even worse when I have to look up something in my own books for a reader or for background on the current manuscript I’m writing. I read what’s on the printed page and wonder why I couldn’t have done a better job.
That’s when it dawns on me that maybe I should have become a critic and not a writer.
Then I realize that it wouldn’t have been as much fun for me—or, I hope, for my readers.