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Critical Essays on Cozy Mysteries

I’m so pleased to have Phyllis Betz as our guest today. I met Phyllis at the Popular Culture Association conference in Washington DC a couple of years ago when I was on a panel. It was thrilling to find out that there would be a scholarly study of cozy mysteries.

Phyllis: My name is Phyllis Betz, an associate professor of English at La Salle University in Philadelphia, PA.  I am the editor of an anthology of critical articles on the cozy mystery called Reading the Cozy Mystery: Critical Essays on an Underappreciated Subgenre, published by McFarland & Company.

As the subtitle states, the contributors to this volume take the cozy mystery very seriously; they have brought sharp critical attention to a type of mystery that is often discounted as not being seen as serious and, therefore, not worthy of critical study.  While it has taken many years for all popular forms to receive this kind of valuable analysis, the cozy, like the popular romance, is often shunted aside so that the hard-boiled detective or the police procedural gets the lion’s share of attention.

The idea for an anthology on the cozy came out of mine and others’ presentations at the Popular Culture Association over the course of two years. The majority of the essays in the anthology began as papers at those panels. Clearly, we all thought, and still believe, that the cozy offers a rich field for exploring genre, representation, themes, and cultural commentary.

While this anthology only scratches the surface of the cozy, its writers and readers, the essays provide in-depth examinations of the form. Four of the authors engage with the question of what exactly a cozy mystery is.  Some of you may be surprised to discover that Marty Knepper doesn’t see Agatha Christie as a cozy writer.  Four essays examine the impact of setting on the development of the cozy narrative and characters and consider how those places expand and contract over a series. The last set of four essays looks closely at some of the characters who appear in the cozy. These authors may offer the most surprising views as Stephen Cloutier makes the case for Lt. Colombo as a cozy detective as does Sally Beresford-Sheridan for Nero Wolfe.

Reading the Cozy Mystery is the first text, but I hope not the last, to consider the cozy as a subject deserving of close critical attention. I feel confident critics will continue, as the contributors to this work have done, to find that cozy mysteries, beside telling a good story, offer insights into the way popular literature provides entry into the wider world.

Readers: My question is a broad one to the readers of this blog: what do you read cozies for—the mystery, the characters, or the setting?

Biography: Phyllis M. Betz teaches English literature and composition. She also words in the field of popular culture and literature and has written three books on lesbian popular fiction.

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