Alice Duncan has asked that I write something on mysteries. For the new writer who’s not quite sure of the differences, or maybe doesn’t know that there are differences, I’m going to start off by explaining the difference between Cozies, Hard Boiled, and Police Procedurals. Other blogs by me in this blog tour will explain and go into detail on other kinds of mysteries.
Cozies are for the reader who wants to curl up with a cup of tea and read a story that’s not terribly gory. Most of the early British mysteries were cozies; for instance, Agatha Christie. Actual violence is offstage and if you get a glimpse of the corpse, it’s a quick one as he’s photographed and then hauled away in a body bag.
Quite often in a cozy, the corpse is someone that several people want dead. I had a corpse like that in Night Sounds. You never saw him onstage but just about everyone he knew had a good reason for wanting him dead, and any one of several people could have made it happen.
Cozies sell well because they’re generally fun and faster and easier to read. They may be scary, full of tension, and they should be, but they shouldn’t contain anything truly revolting because the market for these books is clearly defined. People who want to read cozies are not aren’t at all interested in gore and in fact can become quite put out if you include any.
Amateur Detective stories are usually cozies. Those usually center around a person who stumbles over corpses or illegal activities by accident time after time, to his/her vast surprise, and this protagonist might be well known in his/her neighborhood for solving crimes.
Think Murder She Wrote or Diagnosis Murder. Those were cozies. Just remember, the big thing with cozies is that there is no gore, no guts spilling over the countertop, just a nice, quiet, dead corpse, if you see one at all. You’ll often find cats or puppies in a cozy, because cozy readers really love pets, and you’d better not kill one in your book or you’ll lose your reader right then and there.
Some authors take offense to the term ‘cozy’, but it’s not offensive or demeaning in any way. It just defines a certain type of mystery.
If the detective isn’t an amateur, he’s doing it for money, and if he’s doing it for money, he’s usually a hardboiled kind of guy (or woman). Hardboiled is the exact opposite of cozy. You won’t find any cats in this one. This type of guy keeps a piranha or a python, if he keeps anything.
He’s the one who runs through the alley dodging bullets, jumping over trash cans, climbing up the outside escape stairway, beating up two guys who are trying to stop him before he jumps from the top of one tall building to another, breaks a wrist in the process but still continues on, chasing the crook till he catches him. He stops for a Jack Daniels after he’s done and the crook is arrested. Then, and only then, he might see a doctor about his wrist but probably not.
These guys are larger than life characters, more freewheeling, tougher, some may say more loveable, but they’re probably not the kind of guy you want your daughter to bring home for Thanksgiving dinner. They cuss, they drink, they know their street people well, they like their women hot and their crooks cold.
In both of the above examples the detectives aren’t necessarily true to life, but that’s what makes them so interesting and so much fun to read.
Usually the main character is a policeman or woman. Think Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series. The structure of police procedurals is a prescribed format, in which a cop with megatons of integrity outwits or outruns the perp. In these, you’ll use a lot of investigative terms and regulations, and in the process, teach the reader more than she ever thought she wanted to know about police work—if you do your research, and for this type of book, you must. You can’t fake this one.
There are loads of good research books on law enforcement procedures. Writer’s Digest has some good ones, The Howdunit Series. You can find them everywhere, or order them online.
If you’re doing a serial killer type of police procedural, John Douglas, among others, has written quite a few books on profiling and apprehending this type of criminal. I have a shelves full of different police procedure research books, from Fundamentals of Criminal Investigation, which cost me almost $90 for one book, all the way back to Time-Life books on Criminals Throughout History. Look around, you’ll find what you need.
But do find them, because there’s nothing worse, to a die-hard mystery reader, than when the writer has mistaken a revolver for a pistol. Barbara D’Amato has gone on ride-alongs with Chicago cops while doing research. Some towns will let you do that. Mine will, and also, when I wrote Murder Online, I spent the afternoon at Area One Headquarters in Chicago, picking up a lot of authentic tidbits of information I’d never find anywhere else. Make sure you check every detail out if you do this type of book. Or any for that matter, but especially this type.
Beth Anderson is a multi-published, award winning author in several genres including romance and mainstream crime fiction. A full time author, she now lives in Washington state. She has appeared on Chicago's WGN Morning Show, The ABC Evening News, as well as numerous other radio and cable television shows. She has guest lectured at Purdue University, Moraine Valley College, and many libraries and writers' conferences. She loves music, particularly jazz. Her website and blog are at http://www.bethanderson-hotclue.com .
RAVEN TALKS BACK by Beth Anderson
Krill Press, ISBN 978-0-9821443-9-8
Beautiful Valdez, Alaska. Home of twenty-three-inch snow in the wintertime, but in the summertime, gorgeous mountain scenery where the early morning fog rolls down the mountainside, bringing soft whispers of the past with it. And this year...murder.
Valdez Chief of Police Jack O'Banion's take:
Voices. Visions. A sadistic killer running around loose, a hysterical woman, two teenagers on the verge of home-grown terrorism, everybody including the Alaska State Troopers and out-of-town media driving him berserk twenty-four hours a day. And now Raven wants him to arrest someone, anyone, because she thinks her husband is about to be charged with murder and she just can’t face it.
Raven Morressey's take:
She knows nothing she's saying to Jack makes any sense to him because it doesn't to her, either. After all, it's not every day a newly murdered, tattooed, headless and handless body is dug up in your back yard and then you start hearing voices of your dead ancestors and seeing things that never happened--at least yet. She just wants to keep her home together--at first. She's not trying to butt in and solve the murders in Valdez. But she just can't help it.
Barnes & Noble: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Raven-Talks-Back/Beth-Anderson/e/2940012515407/?itm=1&USRI=beth+anderson#MeetTheWriter
Also available at your favorite independent bookstores nationwide.