23 September 2023

DEFINING THE COZY MYSTERY – Is this real life? Is this just fantasy?

Every now and then you meet a writer so sympatico, you feel like you've known them all your life.

I met Jonathan Whitelaw this year, through Crime Writers of Canada.  Then, we did a panel together at MOTIVE Crime Festival in Toronto, which was about as much fun as you can have, legally.  His brand of humour is my brand, and I'm delighted to bring him to these pages.


Is this real life? Is this just fantasy?

by Jonathan Whitelaw

I had a moment of revelation recently.  It wasn't some divine tap on the head or bolt out of the blue.  But it was just as important.

Cozy mysteries are rooted in the humdrum of real life.

That's it.  That's all it is.  Strange how ten little words put in a particular order can offer you so much clarity.

For context - I'm a cozy mystery writer.  An award-winning one at that - although saying that out loud still sounds strange.  My Bingo Hall Detective series began in 2022, with the most recent - The Village Hall Vendetta - just released here in North America in August.


They follow the misadventures of a mother-in-law/son-in-law amateur detective duo running around the English countryside trying to catch murderers and villains.  And I, quite honestly, have an absolute blast when I'm writing them.

I was recently being interviewed for The Times newspaper in the UK and was asked about what cozy mysteries are and why they're so popular.  There are a million different answers to this, but that little sentence was the first that came to mind.  Cozy crime is rooted in the hum drum of real life.

Now, I can hear protests already.  Real life isn't hum drum, Jonathan!  It's the most exciting, action-packed thing that can ever happen to a person.  And that's true, I agree with that.  However, let's be honest, not EVERYTHING in most of our lives is as high-octane as a Fast and Furious movie, is it?

When was the last time any of us got excited waiting in line at the post office?  Or when we've scanned our bananas at the self checkout only for the computer to go on the fritz?  Orgies of action these moments are not.

And that's where the cozy mystery comes in.  Our lead protagonists are rarely if at all law enforcement, instead coming from down the block, at your local library or, in the case of my series, your relatives.  They are your friends, coworkers, colleagues and confidants.  They are you and I, thrust into a world of murky murder, mischief and mayhem.  And that is, for me, what makes the cozy mystery genre so appealing.

Throw in a good dose of humour, some lavish scenery and a juicy whodunnit and you could be on to a winner.  Scientists and boffins much cleverer than me (they don't use cleverer for starters) have shown an uptake in sales of the cozy genre during times of crisis.  Local, domestic or international, it's no wonder that readers, and the public, need some reassurance from time to time.

The cozy mystery has proven over and over again to at least help with that reassurance.  Yes, there are no graphic violence or sex scenes.  No, you won't find forensic analysis or ballistic reports on gunshot wounds.  What you WILL get, however, is a mystery that, by the end of the 90,000 words, is resolved, the good guys winning, the bad guys getting their just desserts, and hopefully, some laughs along the way.

Who wouldn't want that in these topsy-turvy times?  Cozy mystery is an escape from real life...by staying firmly IN real life.  Go figure!

Jonathan Whitelaw is an award-winning writer, journalist and broadcaster. After working on the frontline of Scottish politics, he moved into journalism, covering everything from sports to music to radioactive waste – and everything in between. He's also a regular reviewer, panellist and commentator. His novel - The Bingo Hall Detectives - won the Lakeland Book of the Year Fiction prize 2022.


Bonus Pix!  Jonathan and Melodie on stage at MOTIVE  (with Sam Shelstad)


  1. Most of my short stories are cozies in one form or another, mainly because the hum-drum of life is full of fascination. Your average person isn't a mad scientist or a supervillain, but you can find people in small towns who do the best they can most of the time, and also the most petty egomaniac dictators than you could ever imagine. "The fights are so bitter, because the stakes are so small" someone once said to me in another context, and that is 100% true. So yeah, I love cozies. As long as they're not saccharine.

  2. Eve, I'm similar. I find motivation the most interesting thing about crime fiction. I'm not interested in serial killers or sociopaths - it's the line crossed by ordinary people that fascinates me. What pushed them over the edge, when I wouldn't have gone there myself?

  3. I completely agree that real life is fascinating to explore. There is a reason why cozies are so popular.

  4. Very true, Bob! Thanks for commenting.

  5. I have a great fondness for cosies, particularly British cosies, something about that Thomas Wolfe home away from home we love to visit in our minds. With or without humour (Lindsey Davis comes to mind for the former), it’s as you say, a nourishment for the soul.

    Jonathan, you and Melodie have given me more reading material. Dare I suggest we’re caught in a landslide?

  6. Bingo trivia: I don’t know if it remains true today, but for many years you could not play bingo in Massachusetts. It was illegal, game of chance and all that, I suppose. So what did churches that depended on bingo revenue do?

    They played beano. It curiously had the same rules, sometimes used the same cards, and excited winners were known to shout Bingo! Beano became a staple in Beantown (Boston). For unclear reasons, the Massachusetts legislature never got around to banning beano, probably expecting churches would invent a new game perhaps called bango.

    1. snurf! (ladylike snort) - Bango, indeed! Talk about fundraising - think of the increase in interest! (at least from the male population) Leigh, we are always putting you in charge of name changes. Okay, I'll leave now....

  7. Melodie, I still remember the day you told me my WIP was a cozy, and I resisted the label. I now embrace it, for many of the reasons this piece articulated.


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