Book Recommendations: Cozy Mysteries

I asked for some book recs on Twitter the other day, as I’ve gotten burnt out on too much YA (when all the protagonists start sounding alike and you want to shake them all for normal, teenage behavior, I think it’s a clue that it’s time for a break). I got some good suggestions, but it occurred to me how difficult it is to give recommendations when you’ve only got 140 characters to understand what sort of books the other person likes and dislikes. So I thought it was time for a new series on the blog – Book Recommendations!

This will be where I list off various books I love, like, etc. in a genre, and you can feel free to offer up suggestions for others based on what I already like. I’ll throw in some specifics of things I dislike as well, to provide balance.

This isn’t purely selfish, either: I’ll update the post with suggestions from the comments, and then whenever someone is looking for a good book in a particular genre, they can just click on the post and have a handy list right at their fingertips.

So, to start off: Cozy Mysteries!

Cozies I Love:

Agatha Christie, of course. Still, and always, the Queen of Crime! (But I’ve no intention of reading the new Poirot novel, because that to me seems like even greater sacrilege than Jill Paton Walsh’s attempts at Lord Peter.

And speaking of Lord Peter … Dorothy L Sayers. I love Peter, and I love Harriet, and I love Bunter, and I most especially love the way she writes.

Ellis Peters. I have almost all the Brother Cadfael mysteries, and I just started collecting the Inspector Felse series. At this point in my life I almost even prefer Felse to Cadfael. Shocking, yes?

Mrs. Pollifax. Dorothy Gilman’s other books are a little weird for my taste, but I adore Mrs. Pollifax. More adventures than mysteries, they’re still pure entertainment, and pure delight for me to read.

Josephine Tey. The woman was brilliant. That’s all.

Cozies I Like:

Ngaio Marsh. Sometimes she can be a little too dry for my taste (it seems half the mysteries are less “mystery” and more “Alleyn and Fox collect evidence and by the end of it know who did the crime, and sit around and snigger at Nigel’s ignorance until they Reveal All), but she’s still brilliant.

Carola Dunn. I have read all the Daisy Dalrymple books, and the Cornish mysteries, and while they aren’t necessarily the best things ever, they are delightful period pieces. And since they are set in the ’20s in England, I can justify buying them as “research” for my own stories. Score!

Margery Allingham. Sad to say I recently gave away all my Campion books. I like them, but not enough to let them continue taking up space on my shelves.

Laurie R King. I only like the Mary Russell stories (I read Touchstone and hated it so much I couldn’t read anything by King for months afterward), and even those have started appealing to me less with the most recent books. Not exactly cozy, but also not really hard-boiled or noir either.

Charles Todd. These can get a little grim for me (and I can never, ever read them late at night), but they are brilliantly crafted. Like the Mary Russell series, these are a little darker than typical cozies, but they also don’t fit into any of the other mystery categories.

Anna Dean. The Dido Kent books are imperfect, but they stay true enough to the time period (Regency) while still managing to feature an intelligent and independent heroine, that I thoroughly enjoy reading them.

Anthony Berkeley. Technically I’ve only read one Roger Sheringham book (they are even harder to find than Campion books), but it cracked me up, and I’ve been on the lookout for more ever since.

Cozies I Sorta Like:

Elizabeth Peters. These hover between farce and genuine mysteries, and I wish they’d make up their mind which they are, because the in-between makes it hard to like them, but there’s a lot of brilliance in them all the same.

The Cat Who books. I pick them up every once in a while, enjoy them for a bit, and then promptly forget about them afterward.

P.D. James. Are these even cozies? I really don’t know. I like them all right, but I can only read so many in a row before I have to turn to something else.

Georgette Heyer. They’re OK, but I always expect the detective to be much more clever than he/she ends up being, and I inevitably guess the culprit long before anyone else. Which is lovely for my ego, but does get boring to read after a while.

Cozies I dislike:

Anything that takes a real person and turns her (it’s usually a her) into a detective. I’ve tried a few of these, and I end up hating them with a passion every time. (Tell the truth, I’m not really a fan of any book that fictionalizes real people, unless said book is by said person him- or herself, i.e. the Little House books.)

ANY mystery featuring Jane Austen characters. Please, no.

Cozies that insist on featuring the exact same characters and developments and “quirks” in every single story, that go through a dozen books and never let the main character grow in any way, that feature protagonists being Too Stupid to Live or doing idiotic things like hiding evidence from the police for no other reason but that they want to prove something, that rely on people being idiots in order to keep things a mystery. Whew.

Anything too “cutesy.” Most themed mystery series get on my nerves after the first book or two. I realize that themes are an essential part of many cozies, but they tend to get repetitive quickly.

~

I’m sure I’m missing some, but that sums it up as best I can. Make your suggestions in the comments, and I’ll update the post with them as they come in!

Update:

If you don’t mind real people fictionalized, Stephanie Barron has written a Jane Austen mystery series which is rather well done.

Over on FB, someone mentioned the Flavia de Luce series by Allan Bradley, which are written for adults despite featuring an eleven-year-old protagonist.

The Phryne Fisher series is delightful fun for the most part, even though I had to quit them after a few books due to my own personal inability to read casually about child abuse.

The Nero Wolfe series is not quite cozy, but reportedly not too hard-boiled, either.

The Mrs Bradley series is quite extensive and shooting to the top of my list of books to find!

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12 thoughts on “Book Recommendations: Cozy Mysteries

  1. Aw, so I suppose you didn’t like Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen mysteries, then? I really enjoyed those. :(

    Cozy mysteries were one of the few “adult” genres I read and loved growing-up-and-into-adulthood. But reading your list definitely highlights that, even there, I wasn’t all that PARTICULARLY well-read in it!

    • I read Barron’s mysteries and no, they definitely were not my cup of tea. Well written, but chock full of things that personally set my teeth on edge. I don’t condemn them for everyone, though! Just not a good fit for me.

      I grew up with the Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Belden, Joe and Frank Hardy, and, when I was especially bored, Nancy Drew. From there it was an easy step to Sherlock Holmes around the age of ten, and Agatha Christie when I was about twelve. I think watching Poirot and Miss Marple on PBS on Sunday nights with Mom and Dad contributed to my love for the genre. I even tried to set myself up as a private detective when I was a kid, only to be foiled by the lack of mysteries. Alas for my youthful ambitions!

      I do remember concocting a fairly awesome secret code with my cousin, which we then used to write letters back and forth. That ended when he kept losing the key, and couldn’t translate the letters …

  2. Awesome lists. I suppose I’ll have to give Mrs Pollifax another look; I think I might have picked up one a long time ago, and it didn’t grab me, so I never read any of them. Otherwise, I’m totally with you on the “loves”, except that I’d put the first three of your “likes” on that list too, and Georgette Heyer as well (but then she’s my absolute utter favourite writer, so I’m biassed. But I do have to admit her Regencies are better than her Mysteries). And I’m very much with you on the “dislikes”, too, in every way (except that I haven’t read too many “cutesy” ones, so I don’t feel as strongly about them).
    Possible additions: I really enjoyed the Phryne Fisher stories in the TV series; I haven’t really read the books – or maybe I read one, before I watched the movies, and didn’t like it because it was too risqué? The movies are good, though, so the books might be worth another try.
    The Nero Wolfe stories – not sure they qualify as cozies, they’re crossing over into the gumshoe genre; but they have the same enjoyment value of one clever detective solving mysteries that have the police baffled, and doing it with flair. Although they might fall under the “same thing every time” and “the character never grows” type of story. But I liked ’em anyway. :)
    If I think of more, I’ll let you know – but now I’ll have to go check out some of the ones you’ve got listed!

    • The Mrs Pollifax books could never really qualify as great mysteries, but I love them for her character. An elderly woman whose life is so boring and drab that she applies to become a spy as an alternative to giving up on everything, and who then develops into the most resourceful, sparkling, courageous, delightful character one can imagine? Pure gold.

      I had forgotten about the Phryne Fisher books! I do love the TV series; I read the first three of the books, and every single one of them featured some form of child abuse, and I just couldn’t take it. One of my personal blocks I’ve learned to respect.

      I’ll check out the Nero Wolfe books; I read some Dick Francis a few years ago and enjoyed them well enough, and Wolfe sounds similar.

  3. Oh, here’s another one: Gladys Mitchell’s “Mrs. Bradley” series. I’ve only been able to get a hold of a few of the books (there’s 66 in all, apparently), but I liked the ones I read.

    • Oh, just thought of another one: I don’t see Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver series on here! She’s great – a lesser Miss Marple (a retired governess turned private detective, about the same setting as Miss Marple). And lots of books in the series.

        • I think you’d love them. Miss Silver hasn’t got the character depth or development Miss Marple has, but has many of the same qualities (including innumerable nephews or young policemen friends she needs to help out). Plus, it’s that typical English cozies setting; I’m pretty sure Patricia Wentworth was a contemporary of Christie and all the other “greats”.

  4. Pingback: Luddism and Ebook Readers | amo vitam

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