Why I Can't Write Cozy Mysteries
Cozy mysteries are generally set in a small town with a cast of quirky characters and little violence. Murders are often depicted as a “fun” mystery puzzle for the characters to solve. Think Agatha Christie; think Murder She Wrote. Nobody is truly grieving. Although I sometimes read cozies and my Neema series has a lot of cozy aspects, with its signing gorilla characters who are always challenging the poor protagonist, beleaguered Detective Matthew Finn, I just can’t write a crime novel in which nobody suffers.
That’s because, as a former private investigator, I’ve talked to too many families and friends of both criminals and victims. Every violent crime leaves a rip in the fabric of life for them. Every violent crime, especially murder, is a tragedy, even when the deceased is someone that many want to have removed from the planet.
The families and friends of murder victims have predictable emotions: principally grief, anger, and regret that they can never again interact with the victim. There’s always something left unsaid, a good-bye kiss or hug that didn’t happen before the victim died, or lasting repercussions like financial hardship due to the loss of the victim’s income.
For a private investigator (or a mystery writer), the families and friends of the perpetrators are more interesting in that they present a wide variety of attitudes. Even the most hardened serial killer is someone’s child or parent or sibling or comrade. Some people deal with a conviction by denying the criminal behavior and claiming that the person is being framed; others cut the individual completely out of their lives, not wanting to be associated with that person in any way. And a small handful accept the verdict of what the individual has done and are saddened and often shamed by the crime, but love and support the criminal in spite of it. It’s hard to imagine how the parent or spouse or child of a murderer on death row deals with that situation.
I always feel sympathy for both sides, but sometimes more so for the criminal’s relatives and friends. If your loved one was a victim, you can have good memories of that person and know his or her life was affected or taken unfairly. If your loved one is the criminal, how do you deal with that?
So, I will never write a cozy mystery where it’s fun to solve a murder. I know too much. Instead, I hope that knowledge helps me develop decent, sympathetic characters throughout my stories. And I love writing mysteries in general, because unlike in many of the cases I worked in real life, in my books I can always make justice prevail.