Guest: Triss Stein

Edith here, dealing with the long dark nights of December by using lots of lights. I’m so photo15pleased to welcome Triss Stein to the blog today. We met over breakfast at Bouchercon in Albany, and she’s got a new book out! In Brooklyn Secrets, Erica Donato, Brooklyn girl, urban history grad student, and single mom, is researching the 1930s when Brownsville was the home of the notorious organized criminals the newspapers called “Murder Inc.” She quickly learns that even in rapidly changing Brooklyn, Brownsville remains much as it was, poor, tough, and breeding fighters and gangs.

She’s giving away a copy to one lucky commenter, too. Take it away, Triss.

But Is It Cozy?

Good morning! I lived in New England in my twenties, always thought I’d go back, have vacationed there often and we are seriously looking into Vermont as a retirement home.  So – what fun to be a Wicked for a day.

Brooklyn Secrets CoverWhen Edith invited me, we talked about whether what I write could be called a cozy at all. The answer is a clear-cut yes …and no.  Probably it depends on definitions.

I believe the cozy is just a variant of the traditional amateur sleuth mystery. Small communities where people know each other, crimes that are personal, not random street violence or gang wars. They are about the evil behind the nicely painted front door, not the evil that walks the mean streets with a weapon.

Over the last couple of decades, there has been a very popular trend further in that direction, with stories often set in workplace that have a quaint or cute component. Food is often involved. Or pets. Especially cats. Or crafts. Punning titles. When it works, the contrast between that setting and the crime should be even more powerful.

Does it have to be in a quaint village? Does it have to have cats? Or cupcakes?dumbo

My books take place in the Big City. And Erica, my heroine does not cook much – there is always pizza – does not have pets, but does have a teen-age daughter. Brooklyn, her native turf, has gone through huge social disruption in the decades I have made it my adopted home. Lots of built-in conflict here, every day.

Can I call them “urban cozies?” Or perhaps “soft boiled?” The usual urban landscape, those mean streets, does not have a home for characters (or readers!) who live in a big city but are not Philip Marlowe. Or Harry Bosch. Or Matt Scudder.  Who do not even know anyone like Matt Scudder.

brooklyn-real-estate-blog-postThat would be me, and my friends and millions of other readers who live rather ordinary lives but do it in a big (bad?) city like New York. The life I see around me is mostly about work and family and home, local politics, neighborhood issues, schools.  Sound familiar?  And anyone who believes there is not enough drama there to sustain a mystery series is not paying attention. Kill over real estate? Art? Reputation? In a New York minute.

Long ago I worked for the public library system. They liked to move us around and what I observed was that the different neighborhoods were a lot like small towns.  Each one had its own atmosphere, history, quirks, and fears.  I am using that to write mysteries set in flowerhouseBrooklyn neighborhoods, halfway between too cozy and too hard-boiled, a domestic style background that includes real emotions and real conflicts.

And someday I will send Erica on vacation, to see what crime looks like in the Green Mountains or the Cape Cod shore. Where people say “wicked” as a compliment.

Readers, what do you think? Can Triss make the term “urban cozy” work? What do you think of the concept of “soft-boiled” mysteries?”

Triss Stein is a small–town girl from New York farm country who has spent most of her adult life in New York the city. This gives her the useful double vision of a stranger and a resident for writing mysteries about Brooklyn neighborhoods in her ever-fascinating, ever-changing, ever-challenging adopted home. In the new book, Brooklyn Secrets, , Erica find herself immersed in the old and new stories of tough Brownsville, and the choices its young people make.

34 Thoughts

  1. I just plain love mysteries as long as the aren’t gruesome. Thanks for the chance to win this book!

  2. Thanks for introducing us to another new series and its author. Sounds like I need to add it to my TBR list. Thanks for the chance to win.

    1. Just what I was going to say. Neighborhoods work as well as small towns. I used a neighborhood in Seattle for one of my manuscripts.

  3. Thanks for stopping by today, Triss! I really enjoyed this and love your wicked fabulous pictures! I like soft boiled — I think it’s the publishers and book stores that are so crazed about how to classify mysteries.

  4. Triss, I think you’ve got it right. Every place has its own neighborhoods, whether it’s a city or a small town. It’s all about the connections within the neighborhood, that make it possible for an amateur sleuth to find answers.

  5. Hi Triss, welcome! I love the way you describe your books, and how you break down the setting barriers that often define genres. Thanks for visiting!

  6. I love the idea of urban cozies and am a fan of both Cleo Coyle and our own Sheila Connolly’s Museum series. Despite what the news blats at us 24/7, we are more alike than different, and at the end of the day, it’s a parent holding a backpack, watching a kid on a playground, chatting with other parents. Neighborhoods are anywhere. I like books that support that point.

  7. It’s about community rather than the size of the town/city. I have no problem with the urban cozy title. And I’ve read some stuff I think fits soft boiled as well. I’ve enjoyed both.

  8. My father in law grew up in Brownsville/East NY and has stories about the guys mentioned in the book… Just a small aside. A few of the members of Murder Inc. attended Yeshiva Jacob Joseph H.S. on the Lower East Side. The school is now located on Staten Island but the legend is still alive. The school has two kinds of graduates. Ones who stay religious and the ones who are spending time in prison. LOL

    1. HI, Nora: Thanks for leaving this interesting comment. I was surprised by several friends coming up with old Brownsville connections, including one whose grandparents testified at a trial. It makes in very real, doesn’t i? And BTW some of those guys somehow managed to be both religious (sort of) and criminal. There was one who refused to do any killing on the Sabbath!

  9. My thanks to all the people who posted a version of “after all, it’s all about community.” That tells me you got what I was saying. (Always good for an author to hear that!) And thanks to all the Wickeds for commenting/inviting me, too. I
    ll be back later to join in again.

  10. Urban cozy sounds great. Soft boiled, maybe not. I love mysteries. I really love most all books though. Thanks for the chance. I’ve been happily discovering new authors and books to read lately.

  11. I think urban cozies work, the main thing is that they are not graphic and the charactors are engaging.

  12. It is kind of exciting to see so many of you readers ( yay for readers!) liked “urban cozy.” Many thanks! I’ll be at Malice Domestic this year. Come say hello of you are there.

  13. Thanks for visiting today, Triss. I think the urban cozy series has some of the best of both worlds. It is easy to believe crime happens in a big city but you are also able to develop a sense of community in the smaller footprint of a neighborhood or a borough. What a great place to set a series!

  14. Soft-boiled urban cozy works for me. Thanks for a chance to win a copy of your book.

  15. I used to live in Park Slope so I’m going to definitely check these books out. 😉

  16. Who says big cities can’t be cozy? or small villages can’t be hard boiled? I try not to get caught up in the semantics. I look forward to reading your series.

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