Finding a Way to Subvert Cabot Cove Syndrome by Debra H. Goldstein

Kathy Laweryson is the winner of Debra’s giveaway. Look for an email from Debra!

Welcome back, Debra Goldstein! We met Debra years ago when we were standing in line waiting to register at Malice Domestic. What a fortuitous event that turn out to be! Debra is doing a giveaway–look for details at the end of the post.

Debra: One of the best and worst of things writing a continuing cozy series is dealing with Cabot Cove Syndrome. The fictional syndrome, which is attributed to the television show, Murder She Wrote, describes the finding of bodies repeatedly in the small town of Cabot Cove, Maine. Because the show ran for twelve years, not to mention the books and movies it spawned, the BBC once calculated its murder rate at 1490 per million, which translated to about two percent of the residents of Cabot Cove.

Numbers like that, if the town truly existed, would either strain reality or make one leery of ever visiting. The concept holds true when writing a continuing series. Readers want to identify with a cast of characters found in every book, but at the same time, they want the character roster to expand enough each time that the dead body and the culprit aren’t the only new faces in town. To keep the reader satisfied and coming back, the author must use different methods.

The easiest way to avoid Cabot Cove Syndrome is have the protagonist take a trip. That can work here or there, but in a cozy the small town setting itself becomes a character that readers look forward to visiting. What would Louise Penney’s books be if they didn’t, for the most part, take place in Three Pines? Rather than ignoring Cabot Cove Syndrome, it is better to embrace it through the workaround of introducing minor characters whose roles grow in subsequent books.

For example, in One Taste Too Many, the first book in my Sarah Blair series, I introduced Grace Winston as a culinary student interning with Sarah’s talented Chef sister, Emily. She has several scenes in One Taste where readers learn about her personality, health, and history. Mentioned again in Two Bites Too Many, but in a minor role, Grace remains in the reader’s mind. Her scenes become important in Three Treats Too Many, where she now is the sous chef for Emily’s restaurant. In fact, the title of the book comes from an idea she raises with Emily, Sarah, and Emily’s boyfriend, Marcus, during a brainstorming session. Although she still is a secondary character, the reader learns about Grace’s partner and sees Grace caught in a culinary job dilemma between restaurant rivals.

Four Cuts Too Many begins a few days after Three Treats Too Many ends. Grace’s dilemma is the impetus for a meeting between Sarah and Grace. Within pages, the reader sees Grace’s role expand as now, besides being a sous chef for Emily, Grace is teaching a knife skills course at the community college. After she has a run-in with her department head, he is found dead from a knife wound to his throat. And, voila, Grace becomes the primary suspect.

The importance of Grace being the suspect in Four Cuts Too Many, or any of the primary suspects used in the other books in the series, is that their characters are known to the reader and are people the readers want Sarah to help. Although the corpse may be someone new to the community, there is enough familiarity for the story to feel like a continuous extension of a discussion between friends. For my books, the developed continuity and affection for the characters is what lets the reader transcend and suspend any impact the Cabot Cove Syndrome might have.

Readers: For a chance to win a print or e-book copy of Four Cuts Too Many (U.S. only), tell me, how do you feel about Cabot Cove Syndrome in the books you read?

Four Cuts Too Many

Sarah Blair gets an education in slicing and dicing when someone in her friend’s culinary school serves up a main corpse in Wheaton, Alabama . . .
Between working as a law firm receptionist, reluctantly pitching in as co-owner of her twin sister’s restaurant, and caretaking for her regal Siamese RahRah and rescue dog Fluffy, Sarah has no time to enjoy life’s finer things. Divorced and sort-of dating, she’s considering going back to school. But as a somewhat competent sleuth, Sarah’s more suited for criminal justice than learning how many ways she can burn a meal.
Although she wouldn’t mind learning some knife skills from her sous chef, Grace Winston. An adjunct instructor who teaches cutlery expertise in cooking college, Grace is considering accepting an executive chef’s position offered by Jane Clark, Sarah’s business rival—and her late ex-husband’s lover. But Grace’s future lands in hot water when the school’s director is found dead with one of her knives in his back. To clear her friend’s name, there’s no time to mince words. Sarah must sharpen her own skills at uncovering an elusive killer . . .
 Includes quick and easy recipes!

Four Cuts Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® (

Bio: Judge Debra H. Goldstein writes Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series. Her short stories and novels have been Agatha, Anthony, Derringer, and Silver Falchion finalists. Debra is on the national board of MWA and is president of SEMWA. She previously was on SinC’s national board and was the Guppy Chapter president. Learn more about Debra at .

55 Thoughts

  1. Congratulations on the new book, Debra. I can’t wait to read my copy! What you did with Grace is a great way to handle the dreaded Syndrome.

  2. I’ve noticed that, in cozy mysteries series that are set in small towns, the amount of murders do seem disproportionate to the amount of townspeople, but it’s fiction so it doesn’t bother me. The main characters do end up traveling to find “fresh corpses” quite a bit and I appreciate the new scenery and some touristy sight-seeing. It’s all fun to read!

    1. Kathy,
      True, but interestingly, a lot of readers don’t like the characters to travel out of town. They miss the hometown setting. Thanks for stopping by this morning.

  3. I embrace the Cabot Cove syndrome when it comes to cozy mysteries. I mean, you kind of have to if you want to continue to read the varied series. It’s the kind of suspension of disbelief that works in fiction that just wouldn’t be possible in the real world.

    1. Jay,
      So true. As both Kathy (above) and you noted, you willingly suspend belief and accept this quirk in cozy mysteries. I think the author has to make it compelling enough for you to do so… and if we do, we’ve created a fun whodunit.

  4. Love Debra H. Goldstein’s books and love this series! “Four Cuts Too Many” is most definitely on my TBR list and can’t wait for the opportunity to read it.

    Love series, but also like for them to make sense. If everyone of the main characters are the only ones affected by a murder then it would seem like history repeating itself. The way Debra explained it is spot on and I love the way she handles the Cabot Cove Syndrome so expertly. Even though they were minor characters in previous books, they are knows to us and as each book comes out we learn more about the back ground people making us feel like more involved in the community instead of just a handful of people. To me, it’s not just the solving of a murder, but embracing the town and all the people living in it. You almost feel like you have this vacation home on the edge of town that you come back for vacation ever so often and catch up on what’s going on with the friends you’ve met and the town that you loved enough to invest in.

    Thank you so much for the chance to win a copy of this wonderful new release! Shared and hoping to be the very fortunate one selected.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Kay,
      Thank you for your kind comments. I love your comparison to a vacation home…. except, as you may notice, the population always drops when you visit.

  5. Congratulations on the new book!

    Cabot Cove Syndrome is always a possibility, but I think you’ve handled it well. The other place that always struck me as dangerous to your health is Oxford. Between Morse and Lewis, I’m surprised anyone lives there! LOL

    1. Thank you for the congrats and for hosting me today. It’s always a delight to visit the Wickeds. As you noted, you adopted me at Malice and the Wickeds who weren’t running around at the next Crimebake took me under their wing there, too. I look forward to the next time we can sit next to each other at a Kensington event and I can push people in your direction (although I hope my books show up —-which they didn’t the first time we were together for a mass giveaway).

  6. Congratulations on the new book, Debra! Knowing the way you write, your readers will always be in good hands. I enjoy returning to beloved characters and settings, so CCS doesn’t bother me.

  7. I read so many different series that I don’t think Cabot Cove Syndrome has a chance to slip in. After all, in my little rural area, the only news I get is the headlines of all the mass killings going on in the cities. If there is another shooting in the real world every day, a death in a small town one has not visited in months doesn’t register as all that strange. Regrettable, but not strange.

    1. Sad as we reflect on the shootings of the past few days… but like you, I rejoice in visiting small towns in books… and when one reads many series, it does mix up the towns /settings so they constantly feel fresh.

  8. It doesn’t bother me at all. If I were that concerned with reality, I guess I would read non-fiction. Thanks for the chance to win the book.

  9. Good post, Debra! I also use recurring characters in my Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries, but until your post I didn’t see it as a way of dealing with Cabot Cove Syndrome, so thanks for pointing out that use. Instead, characters who appear in one book make it into another, if I decide they’re interesting enough to be in the next book. For example, toward the end of the second book in my series,Shuntoll Road, I found myself writing POV chapters for two characters, one a woman in her sixties, and the other, a man in his thirties. I ended up switching the POV back to my main character, Kathryn Stinson, but the fact that the woman and man “spoke” to me in the original POV chapters, made me decide to give them both important roles in the third book, Wolf Bog, which I’m in the midst of finishing. And knowing that I would use these characters enabled me to hit the ground running on the bog book.

  10. Really fun fact about the Cabot Cove syndrome. During our Book club Zoom meetings we often joke about that very fact…’will there be anyone left alive other than our sleuths?” Glad you have a solution via travel, (which is my business) very cleaver to do that.
    In the end, we know we are reading cozy fiction, and are usually engrossed in the story, bonding with the characters and cheering them on, so the fact that there is a ‘body-a-day’ is definitively not a detriment.

    Fun books, please keep killin’ them 🙂

    Thank you so much!

    1. Thank you for stopping by. Don’t forget – most cozy authors are also willing to travel (even if by zoom) to talk to book clubs. It’s an interesting way to bond with readers and share ideas. I agree…. reading cozy fiction is an escape that one ignores the bodies along the way.

      1. Thank you Debra! I will keep your contact information and reach out to you when we start reading your books. Blessings and happy writing.

    2. Think my response was gobbled up… I agree that we bond with the characters and being with them and in the town they live is comforting and fun. I also noted that authors love to bond with readers — whether by zoom or skype, they are always willing to join in the fun of book clubs. They jump at invitations.

  11. Hi Debra, great to see you here! Cabot Cove Syndrome (great name) doesn’t bother me. In fact, one of the long-running series I follow is Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy. I love that there is a cast of characters at the start of each book with a brief bio that lets me try to pre-figure who done it and who got it!

    1. Kait,
      Thanks for stopping by this morning. It’s true, when we follow long running series, we simply don’t worry about the bodies, only enjoying the characters and trying to figure out whodunit.

  12. I love to encounter recurring characters in the series I read, and I pretty much expect that there will be at least some “Cabot Cove syndrome” in the cozies. If you are going to embrace the small town concept, you can’t completely avoid it. Congratulations on your latest release!

  13. It’s funny you should mention travel because very few episodes of Murder, She Wrote actually took place in Cabot Cove. Most of the time, Jessica was traveling. And, if you really start to pay attention, you’ll find that many of the Cabot Cove episodes involved someone coming to town to be killed.

    1. Mark,
      I think the early ones were pretty much in Cabot Cove, but then the syndrome necessitated getting out of the cove or as you said bringing people in for an event (though being killed is a bummer of an event). The other thing was that in those days, the person who often got top guest star billing as opposed to alphabetical billing was the killer.

  14. Welcome back, Debra. Congratulations on Four Cuts Too Many.

    I’m lucky that my cozy series takes place in a resort town where tourists are coming and going along with seasonal residents and workers. My dilemma is rarely who to kill and almost always finding a reason for my sleuth to investigate. Ten books and four novellas on, ‘because someone near and dear asks her to” has moved to the first position.

    1. Barbara,
      I’m only halfway to your output in my series (if you count the book I just submitted), but I’m beginning to try to find ways around near and dear — which is hard to do. I always enjoy how creatively you do it though sometimes I’m sad to see who the victim is – which is a testimonial to how fast you can make a reader be hooked on your characters.

      As always, delighted to spend time with the Wickeds.

  15. It doesn’t bother me. I would read something else if did. Cozy mysterious are definitely a favorite of mine. Congrats on your book! So excited to read this series. Thanks for the chance!!

  16. Congratulations on your new release. I love reading series and most of them are set in small towns. I guess I don’t really think about Cabot Cove syndrome, I just want to read and enjoy the book

    1. Dianne,
      that is the sentiment of most cozy readers (or readers of any genre). We read to escape; we read for fun; we read to challenge our minds… if the story is well written, we don’t worry about CCS.

  17. It is the puzzle of “who did it?” that keeps me reading mysteries and I especially enjoy cozy mysteries with good characters and a small town setting. Your books “fit the bill” as the saying goes. And, I hope Sarah and friends keep going for a long time. It is like all those folks in Midsomer Murders which has been going for over twenty seasons. We still watch and wonder “who did it?”

    1. Thank you for the kind words about Sarah and her books…. from your mouth or computer to Kensington’s ears. The fifth book has been submitted, and we will find out this summer what, if any, further adventures Sarah will have after 2022. For all authors as we come out of this horribly challenged covid year, we are grateful the rate of illness is going down and we are looking forward to interacting with readers in person — but reviews and sales during this virtual time are especially important for various series to continue to have lives.

  18. Congrats, Debra! Love the series. I never think of how many bodies pile up in small town in cozies. The town itself along with all the regular people, are what make the characters interesting. I never had a problem with Cabot Cove’s dwindling population. I stopped being interested in the series when Jessica moved to NYC.

    1. I agree that the town or setting becomes a character itself. Interesting that you found NYC’s flavor not as enjoyable as Cabot Cove — Cabot Cove was unique in a warm and inviting way with its water and scenery.

  19. Congrats on your new release! I’m looking forward to reading your series. If I’m engaged in a series, I never think much about the high rate of murders in the local population. New people moving into town or visiting are always a good source of victims/murderers. And there are always more old timers to introduce with each book. I love Misdommer Murders. I’m waiting with bated breath for the next episodes to appear. I laugh about the high rate of murders in those charming little English towns, but as long as there’s another National Trust Estate, beamed-ceilinged pub or medieval church to appear on camera, I’m there eagerly awaiting the next farfetched set of murders.

  20. I don’t mind a lot of murders in a small town or area. I think having visiting groups like people coming in for festivals or plays helps. If the sleuth goes on trips, please have him or her take along some friends or family. Miranda James just had a group go to Ashville that was fun. People can also call, e-mail or text home in modern mysteries to keep the rest of the cast involved. Looking forward to your new book. Stay safe and well.

    1. Another one who recently did that well is V.M. Burns. She took everyone to London on an Agatha Christie tour. Same characters and antics…different setting. Thank you for stopping by.

  21. I don’t mind as I noticed in the TV series many of the antagonists are from out of town and also Jessica travels a lot so they were avoiding the syndrome also. May favorite episodes happen in Cabot Cove though.

  22. I agree with what Debra said! I am a fan of this series and would love to read the latest installment!!

  23. I never really gave it much thought. I just enjoy the mystery. Murder She Wrote is one of my top favorite mystery shows that I watch on repeat all the time…lol. I read the books for enjoyment not to dissect and wonder why all those people die in that town, if I did I wouldn’t enjoy it.

  24. The whole Cabot Cove Syndrome doesn’t really bother me. I see it a great deal with long series like the Hannah Swensen series. Without my ability to ignore it the sheer number of deaths would flabbergast me. I think you have to remind yourself if it does bother you that this is fiction and meant for an escape. You don’t need to analyze the whole thing. Just enjoy it!

  25. I read for pleasure so Cabot Cove Syndrome doesn’t bother. Suspend reality and read the book.

  26. My friend used to say never visit the Harts on Tuesday nights. Hart to Hart, they would always have these guests over that ended up getting killed. That was always part of the fun. The same happens in Midsummer Murders. That’s one murderous little English village. Here too, though, the village is part of the story.

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