Some might think of cozy mysteries as edgeless and old-fashioned, but that’s only the case if you want it to be. To my mind, the genre feels like a metaphorical warm blanket around the shoulders. Though the detective will be out to solve a murder, there’s usually (but not always) less gore on the page, and while I’ve used the word “detective,” a cozy crime is most often solved by an enterprising member of the public. With no official law enforcement experience, there’s room for the protagonist to make a few relatable mistakes on the way to justice. A lot of cozy mysteries will throw in a cute element as well—like a helpful pet, some hilarious older family members, or, a favorite trope, delicious food.
In my novel, Grave Expectations, Claire, a clairvoyant, is hired for a seance at a birthday party for an 80-year-old grandmother. With the ghost of her best friend Sophie in tow, she arrives in the English countryside and discovers that a secret has been haunting the manor. My book has a lot of swearing and very little baking, but it’s cozy because it’s comforting, familiar, and funny (I hope!).
Some of my favorite writers today are playing with form, or rooting crime in their own diaspora, creating stories that are warm and full of love (and murder). You can make cozy crime a bit meta, or supernatural, or use it to highlight stories left out of traditional historical fiction. I’ve put together this list that, I think, gives you a taste of the breadth and depth of cozy crime, and will give anyone a fun place to start in a genuinely exciting genre.
The Three Dahlias by Katy Watson
The manor house murder has become a bit of a trope, and it’s a treat when a writer finds a way to twist the formula and make it fresh again. In Watson’s case she makes it a bit meta, as three actresses all known for playing Golden Age detective Dahlia Lively all meet up for a convention weekend at the stately home of the author who created Dahlia in the first place. Lettice Davenport’s descendants are an odd lot, not to mention the fans milling about the place, so when bodies start turning up, there are any number of suspects who could’ve done it. Unique for its trio of bickering sleuths, The Three Dahlias brings the Golden Age into the 21st century.
The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu
I’m stretching the genre a bit here, but one of the joys of modern cozy crime is that it’s a broad church that welcomes many different parishioners. Set in present day Edinburgh, The Library Of The Dead mixes Zimbabwean magic with Scottish moxy, and it’s a proper good time. Ropa is a teenage school dropout earning a living as a ghost talker, carrying messages from the dead to the living. Anything in this economy, right? But when the dead start warning of children in her area being bewitched, Ropa quickly becomes entangled in a web of dark secrets. Perfect if you want your mystery mixed with the otherworldly and a little shiver up the spine.
Death by Bubble Tea by Jennifer J. Chow
Chow is well-known for her hit Sassy Cat Mysteries series, and the LA Night Market Mysteries further proves her prowess as a writer. In Death By Bubble Tea, Yale Yee struggles to find her place in the world. When her influencer cousin Celine visits from Hong Kong, the two must work together to turn a profit at their family’s food stall, but a customer’s untimely death threatens to ruin them. Chow’s work is infused with a warm sense of humor and a sharp eye for the human condition, especially the ways in which family can drive you up the wall.
Death In Heels by Kitty Murphy
The first in the Dublin Drag series, Death In Heels is an especially witty and catty read that brings the vibrancy of the city of Dublin to life. Fi’s best friend Robyn is making his debut as the gorgeous Mae B, but that night Fi discovers the body of another drag queen who had viciously mocked Mae B that same evening. Fi has a vested interest in proving Robyn’s innocence, but it’s easy for a citizen detective to get in over her head in the glamorous chaos of the drag scene. Death In Heels is full of memorable characters, so it’s even more upsetting when more of them start to die…
The Appeal by Janice Hallett
Janice Hallett is the new queen of crime gunning for the Christie crown. In her debut, The Appeal, a murder has shocked an amateur dramatics group in a small English village, casting suspicion on everyone in the group. The twist is that the story is told entirely in text files submitted as evidence — emails, text messages and even social media posts. The mystery at the core is a fiendishly well-plotted one and Hallett’s skill is that you can still feel the character and idiosyncrasies of everyone involved. She paints a picture of the small-town politics of claustrophobic country communities with hilarious accuracy. Perfect for fans of Midsomer Murders.
The Murder Next Door by Sarah Bell
Truly great historical fiction provides a deeper understanding and a new insight of an era. Set in 1912, The Murder Next Door follows a pair of sapphic citizen detectives getting into trouble all over town. Empathetic Ada and her more practical-thinking “companion” Louisa end up investigating the death of their neighbor Mr. Pearce after he’s found dead in his study. His wife is the obvious suspect, but Ada isn’t so sure. The mystery isn’t just about who the culprit is, but whether actually they might have done the right thing in the end. What makes The Murder Next Door so compelling is the tender relationship between our two sleuths, balancing each other out and supporting each other at the same time. It’s like a queer, British version of Only Murders in the Building.
Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala
In this first novel in the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen series, Lila Macapal is recuperating from a truly catastrophic breakup by helping her aunt Rosie run her (unfortunately failing) restaurant. When a food critic dies, Tita Rosie is blamed, and it’s up to Lila to unravel the truth. She’s got a network of extremely funny aunties, a cute dog, and a seriously strong tenacious streak. These books don’t just have a dash of quirky humor, or a slice of romance on the side, but also a love of Filipino food and culture that just leaps off the page. And look, we’re surely all suckers for a book that includes recipes that you can cook along to.