The Holidays: Great Time to Cozy-up with a Mystery. But Please, not a Cozy.
In which the author tries to explain his aversion to the cozy. Recommends a mystery for his readers' holiday reading pleasure. Makes a bold attempt to compare his latest novel too said recommended novel. And pretty much tosses out whatever else is on his mind as this crazy—and anything but cozy—year nears its welcome end.
Cozy mysteries (or "cozies") are defined as a sub-genre of crime fiction in which sex and violence occur off stage, the detective is an amateur sleuth and the crime detection takes place in a small socially intimate community. Cozies have also been referred to as "rose tinted crime" and "feel good murder."*
Cozies are not my cup of tea.
I guess I'm just more of a hardboiled or noir guy who likes his sex and violence on stage.
So imagine my shock when a very sophisticated reader whose opinion I greatly respect referred to Rare as Earth, my latest eco-thriller, the third in the Jake Goddard and Susan Brand series as "almost a cozy." It caused me to do a little soul-searching and to draw some comparisons to Tana French.
No one would argue that Tana French is anything but a writer of hardboiled mysteries. Yes, her plot elements are often unique, such as a critter, real or imagined, living in the attic and driving the resident protagonist nuts (Broken Harbor), but "rose-tinted" or "feel good." Far from it.
I recommend Tana French's The Searcher for your holiday reading but don't expect a typical hardboiled mystery.
Yet, my latest French read, The Searcher, which, as I mentioned above I highly recommend—if for no other reason than the author can make a sunny pasture full of grazing sheep feel sinister—contains: (spoiler alert) no explicit sex, no murder in the time frame of the story, nothing more violent than three non-lethal beatings and one non-lethal shooting, and a pastural setting with a thirteen-year-old girl as one of two heroes. Sounds almost like a cozy. It's not.
Then I examined my latest novel. Much of what I wrote above about The Searcher could be applied to Rare as Earth. Rare has earned high marks for action, tension and plotting. But I wrote it (spoiler alert #2) without a single shooting or murder. Yes, there is arson, abduction, assault and attempted murder, as well as a gruesome accidental death.
I can't speak for Tana (I would love to speak with her) but as for me, I just felt I wanted to challenge myself—certainly not to try and make murder "feel good"—but to write a great "roller coaster ride of a mystery," (to quote one enthusiastic reader), without relying on what we already have so much of in our society, especially lately—casual hate and violence. Was I successful? You be the judge (please).
Perhaps Tana French felt the same way about The Searcher. Come to think of it, I recommend you read The Searcher by Tana French and Rare as Earth by Gregory Zeigler this holiday and compare the two. And you will be happy to hear of another similarity between the two novels. Rare has not one, but two, young female teenage heroes. A detail of which I, the author, am very proud.
While I have you, I want to end with a tribute to John Le Carre (sorry, can't do acute accents).
You may be familiar with two of his most famous novels, Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. He died recently at the age of eighty-nine while I was in the middle of The Perfect Spy, much of which is autobiographical. Suffice it to say, over his twenty-five or so books, and long and distinguished career, he elevated spy novels to the lofty heights of literary fiction.
Lord, that man could write. Take this for example:
"And when Brammel speaks, his voice is as cold as charity and as late in arriving."
Or this question asked of a hapless spy who has never so much as broken an adversary's fingernail:
"So how many have you killed?" Belinda asked him grimly, discounting those he had merely maimed.
"I'm not allowed to say," said Pym, and with a crisping of the jaw stared away from her towards the stark wastelands of his duty.
Le Carre was a crime literary genius.
And that, folks, is all I've got for you this year.
Except this wish.
Happy Holidays. Happy Reading. Stay cozy.
Here's wishing you light at the end of the winter.
*Wikipedia (Yes, I use and support it.)