Edith here, dealing with the long dark nights of December by using lots of lights. I’m so pleased 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.
When 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?
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.
That 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 Brooklyn 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.