Cozy and Gay

by Barbara Ross
in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, at last.

In honor of the Supreme Court’s decisions this week on DOMA and Prop. 8, I’m writing about gay characters in cozy mysteries.

It’s my belief that we’ve gotten as far as we have on the issue of LGBT rights for one reason. Yes, activists have worked hard. Yes, the AIDs epidemic was a lesson to us all. But the thing I believe moved us furthest, fastest was people having the courage to come forward and make the simple declaration, “I’m gay.” Some of these people have been high profile entertainers, politicians and now even sports figures, who took their own risks. But the real heroes to me have been the neighbors, co-workers, service providers and family members, in small towns, suburbs and cities, who have made it more and more difficult for any American to say, “I don’t know anyone who’s gay.”

So I started thinking about gay characters in cozy mysteries. Cozies, sometimes called “village mysteries” usually center on a community of some sort, whether it’s an actual village or one that lives inside a city or a bigger town. If there are more openly gay people walking around our real villages, I wondered, are there more openly gay people walking around our fictional ones?

Mysteries with gay characters are nothing new. Protagonists, side-kicks, victims and perpetrators.

But I’m interested specifically in cozies. And not in stories where a character being gay is either the twist or “the thing.” Rather, in gay characters wandering through cozies as real gay people wander through all of our lives.

Here are some cozies that feature characters who happen to be gay, off the top of my head.

Cleo Coyle’s Coffee House Mysteries take place in Greenwich Village. Claire Cosi runs the Village Blend. Her employees are often aspiring dancers and actors. Her customers are neighbors. They are who they are, gay or straight. Claire’s #2 at the coffee shop, Tucker is a gay man.

Lucy Burdette’s Key West Food Critic Mysteries take place in Key West. Characters, victims and suspects may be gay or straight. Protagonist Hayley Snow’s best friend, psychologist Eric Altman is a gay man.

Wicked Cozy’s own Edith Maxwell’s Speaking of Murder also has a gay character. Protagonist Lauren Rousseau’s sister Jackie is a lesbian. Jackie’s girlfriend is (police officer) Natalia Flores.

Can you help us compile the list? if my theory is right, there should be plenty of cozies with gay characters. Again, no spoilers. Gayness shouldn’t be the twist. Just gay characters wandering through cozy villages–just like in real life.

Add books and series in the comments. Thanks!

51 Thoughts

  1. I’ve had a gay chef in the Orchard Mysteries (Red Delicious Death), and a gay receptionist in the Museum Mysteries who is an ongoing character. In the first case the chef was the murder victim, so his orientation came up–and was dismissed as irrelevant to his death. In the second case, the guy was having trouble finding a job because he’d been arrested once (the charge was dismissed), but that’s the only element that’s connected.

    One does have to question some earlier protagonists, who are of ambiguous or non-existent sexuality. Ever wonder about Sherlock Holmes? Hercule Poirot?

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  2. Great additions, Sheila.

    And yes, there were certainly gay characters in the golden age novels, though mostly implied rather than stated. I’ve been trying to think of examples of those as well.

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    1. Philo Vance by S.S. Van Dine could certainly be gay. My Dad had a collection of his books. Sadly, they disappeared during one of our many moves before he died but I did get to read them. I read somewhere that S.S. Van Dine once said that he deliberately wrote Vance as flamboyant as possible to put one over on the publishers. I wonder if he actually admitted that?

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  3. Monica Ferris’s Crewel World series. Betsy’s employee/friend is openly gay. He’s turned into a stereotype, but early Godwin had a few dimensions to him.

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  4. My protagonist Rabbi Aviva Cohen is very close with her niece, her niece’s partner, and their son. They are important background characters in the first book CHANUKAH GUILT and major ones in the second, UNLEAVENED DEAD, when the partner becomes the prime suspect in a hit-and-run murder. (There’s also a gay wedding subplot.)

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  5. I have a gay character in my Cumberland Creek series. So far, he’s been off-stage. But there has been a lot of discussion of him. He’s the son of one of my secondary characters whose husband is having a hard time accepting it. But Randy (my gay character) will be front and center in the fourth book in the series, which I am working on right now.

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  6. There’s a regular minor character ( Joe Cousins) who’s an antiquarian book dealer in my Shadows Antique Print Mystery series, and Maggie’s neighbors in New Jersey are a gay couple. (They look after her cat and house when she’s away. And, of course, Louise Penny has Habri and Olivier, the
    memorable couple who run the bistro in Three Pines.

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    1. Hi Lea

      I am a huge, huge Louise Penny fan. I thought this blog might be one of the few places in the real world (though one of the many places in my virtual world) where we’d be more likely to argue about the definition of cozy than my premise about gay characters!

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      1. I understand the debate about Louise Penny … but if Malice Domestic keeps awarding her Agathas for best traditional novel (almost every year) … then I think she qualifies. And – of course – apologies to Gabri, whose name I typed …

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      2. Definition accepted, Lea–at least by me.

        BTW–I am on a personal mission to reclaim the word “cozy” the way some gay people have reclaimed the word “queer.” We’ll see how it goes!

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  7. Good reminder, Barb, that LGBT folks exist on the page just as they do off it! In my new Food Lovers’ Village series, most of the local produce comes from a garden run by a lesbian couple, one from Norway and one from New Zealand — and it’s their geographic origin that’s more intriguing than their orientation. I’m just starting to work on my Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries, which I hope will reflect some of the rich LGBT culture in that city.

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  8. In G.A. Mc Kevett’s (Sonja Massie) Savannah Reid Mysteries, there are the regular characters, John and Ryan. They are partners, former FBI agents and security to the wealthy. Their characters are near and dear to Savannah.

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  9. One of my main characters in SOCIAL INSECURITY, first in the Brigid Kildare series, is gay. And the way I have the books plotted out, he will be getting married in the 4th book because as of Aug 1st, you can do that in RI.

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  10. This is an interesting point.

    In Dorothy Sayers’ classic STRONG POISON, Lord Peter gets information from a lesbian couple. Another lesbian couple is referred in THE DAWSON PEDIGREE.

    I’ve got a lesbian police deputy in my Laura Fleming series, and in my more recent “Where are they now?” books, the protagonist’s best friend is a married gay man named Cooper.

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  11. All of Ellen Hart’s great Jane Lawless and Sophie Greeaway series star lesbian and gay characters.

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    1. Oh, sorry, I missed your premise of the characters “wandering through.” Especially since it’s such a great idea.

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  12. Dixie Hemmingway’s hunky firefighter brother, Michael, and his hunky undercover cop boyfriend in Blaize (and now John) Clement’s pet sitter series.

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  13. In Laura Durham’s series about a wedding planner sleuth, she has two gay sidekicks, Richard, the caterer, and Fern, the hairdresser. Both are fabulous. The series is set in Washington, D.C., not a village, but they’re definitely cozy. The first book in the series, Better Off Wed, won the Agatha Award for best first novel.

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  14. My Animals in Focus series has a gay couple, the protagonist’s brother and his partner. The series is in Ft. Wayne, IN, not a village, though. Great topic, although I hope in a few years no one will think twice about anyone’s orientation!

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  15. In Lawrence Block’s Burglar series, Bernie’s best friend is Carolyn Kaiser, a lesbian dog groomer. The series has been going since 1977 and it certainly is a cozy series. But what is the debate about Louise Penny?

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    1. Hi Carole

      As Lea points out, Louise Penny has won the traditional mystery award the Agatha, for several years running, so no controversy. But some people do conflate the idea of “cozy” and “amateur sleuth.” Since Louise features a professional sleuth, I was using the opportunity to tease Lea.

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  16. There’s a lesbian couple in Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced, and a gay man in The Moving Finger (though both are implied.)

    My cozy series is set in Cincinnati, and has a gay department store designer in it.

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  17. I write the Melanie Travis mystery series which is set in the world of dogs and dog shows. Top professional handler Crawford Langley and his partner Terry Denunzio are a gay couple who have been continuing characters throughout the (so far) 16 books of the series.

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  18. Alex, the protagonist and amateur detective in my Alex Fitpatrick series set in rural Nebraska is a lesbian Jersey girl who has just opened a pub there. First in the series is THROUGH A SHOT GLASS DARKLY. My readers have noted that Alex has that “just happens to be gay” quality. There’s a romantic subplot on a slow burn as Alex falls for Chris but just can’t figure out if she is gay or not.

    Lev Raphael’s wonderful Nick Hoffman series features Nick,an amateur sleuth and English prof. Highly recommend the series!

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  19. What an interesting topic! I love the Dixie Hemingway series. In my golden retriever mysteries, there’s a gay supporting character, the local antiques dealer. He showed up in the first book, which had a book club reading mysteries — but when the book club was cut, so was he. Didn’t stop him — he kept coming back in each of the succeeding books, working through a series of bad love affairs. But I’ve got plans for him in the next book which should make him happy!

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  20. My Mark Winslow series has a gay standup comic as its sleuth. THE FISHER BOY concerns a murder in Provincetown and a “mystery in history” back story about an artists’ commune of the World War I era (sort of a Jacobs Pillow-meets-the Manson Family). A PINCHBECK BRIDE, the second in the series, is set in a historic house museum in Boston has Mark, his partner Roberto, and other gay characters.

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  21. My mystery stand alone DRAG QUEEN IN THE COURT OF DEATH features both major and minor gay characters, as soes THE TANGLED BOY. NOt sure how cozy they are since they take place mostly in a city, Toronro.

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    1. By using the term “village mysteries,” I didn’t intend to imply cities were out. In fact, I included Cleo Coyle’s Greenwich Village series. I guess this goes back to the endless discussion of what makes a cozy, but a community, no matter where it is, counts, I think.

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  22. Thanks so much Elaine, Barb, Sheila, Carole, Jeffrey, Laurien, Siobhan, Neil, Stephen and Caro.

    An unintended, but welcome, consequence of building this list–my to To Read list is growing exponentially!

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  23. I wrote a series of four mysteries that featured a gay American vampire who resided in an English village; the character’s name was Simon Kirby-Jones. I wrote those under my own name, and in another novel, _Death by Dissertation_, the main character is gay. In each of the series I have written under a pseudonym (Miranda James, the current one; Jimmie Ruth Evans; and Honor Hartman), there is a supporting character who is gay.

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  24. I can’t believe that no one has mentioned Dean James. Simon Kirby-Jones is a gay vampire in his four book series, his protagonist (and many others in the college professor series is gay, and there are gay characters in his trailer park series (written as Jimmie Ruth Evans and his Bridge Series (written as Honor Hartman.)

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  25. What a great idea for a post! I write the natural remedies mystery series for Gallery Books/S & S and my protagonist Willow McQuade, a holistic doctor runs a health food store called Nature’s Way Market & Cafe located on the East End of LI, NY. Her on-site acupuncturist and a good friend is gay. They all have a lot of fun at the store when she isn’t solving murders!

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  26. 1920s–being gay was much more problematic than it is now. My 3rd Daisy Dalrymple book, The Winter Garden Mystery, has a male gay couple and their difficulties are the basis of the plot.

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  27. In the Silver Sisters Mysteries, the twins’ 80-year-old uncle Sterling Silver is our loveable gay character. The Silver twins, Goldie and Godiva, don’t go looking for trouble but it generally finds them and that means Sterling and the twins’ mother Flossie, will get involved whether the twins want them to or not.

    Sterling and Flossie are former vaudeville magicians and these feisty elder-sleuths can never resist an opportunity to dress in disguises to conduct their own undercover operation. They even use magic illusions to get out of tight scrapes. Sterling is charming, cantankerous and definitely the voice of reason in this “dynamic duo” that still performs every Thursday at the Home for Hollywood Has-Beens. Their capers have garnered as many fans as Goldie Silver and her twin Godiva Olivia DuBois. In fact they have a starring role in the fourth book, Diamonds in the Dumpster, now in work. The series includes, A Corpse in the Soup, Seven Deadly Samovars and Vanishing Act in Vegas.

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  28. I have a gay couple in my second Frank Renzi mystery, Diva. One of them figures very prominently in the plot. However, it’s not a cozy. It’s a gritty crime thriller. Does that count?

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  29. Oops! I mentioned Lawrence Block’s series, but forgot that my own Susan Lombardi series had a gay couple at Susan’s high school reunion in Most Likely to Murder. One member of the couple is a classmate of Susan’s and he gets involved in solving the murder.

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  30. Tony Fennelly has a series featuring Matthew Arthur Sinclair, a gay epileptic DA turned store owner, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Find out more here:
    http://www.stopyourekillingme.com/F_Authors/Fennelly_Tony.html

    In celebration of reaching 2K members, Crime Fiction group is writing a collective mystery. So far none of the characters has turned out to be gay, but they could if an author wanted to write one in. Please check us out at
    http://www.reviewsbytdev.com/content/Whos-Murdering-Crime-Fiction

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  31. Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile Mysteries include two recurring gay couples, one lesbian and one males, who are neighbors of protagonist Brooklyn Wainwright.

    Ella Barrick has a recurring dance instructor and professional partner to protagonist Stacy Graysin.

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