Mood-Boosting Cozy Mysteries Are Increasingly Diverse
In an oasis of certainty in an uncertain world, cozy mysteries make excellent comfort food. Subtle mood-boosters, they offer the intrigue, emotional reward and puzzle-solving satisfaction of a juicy murder mystery without the gore or serious ugliness usually associated with grittier crime fiction. And there are other benefits as well, starting with a solid sense of humor, kooky characters and a strong sense of justice and order. Moral clarity is reassuring. Crime victims in cozy mysteries tend to be nasty and mostly deserve their fate. And if that’s not true at the beginning, the imbalance will surely be righted by the end.
Plus, the stories are also democratic and relatable since the sleuths are amateurs. As a reader, you can see yourself in a cozy mystery. No fancy forensic expertise is needed. Conversation and local knowledge (good old fashioned gossip) are the best tools for the job. With the year we’ve all had, it’s no wonder there’s a cozy boom. It’s the perfect combination for these times: vicarious escape and reassurance side by side. Even the colorful, home spun covers and punny titles are an inviting and evocative part of the package.
The New Wave: Diverse Cozy Mysteries
The one downside of this otherwise delightful formula, however, has been that conventionally (in the past and often still today), cozy mysteries take place in mostly homogenous small towns and communities. Like the English country villages of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries, these are pleasing, otherwise safe settings if you belong, but horribly insular if you don’t. They are hardly known for their diversity. Now, however, a growing multicultural, multiracial wave of modern cozy mysteries are updating the formula. Building on the inroads made by writers like Barbara Neely, with new settings and new subtext, cozy mysteries are becoming increasingly diverse. And there are modern diverse cozy mysteries for a wide range of moods, tastes, and readers.
Fish Out of Water/The New Girl in a Small Town
Murder by Page One By Olivia Matthews
“I was promised chocolate” is a great opening line for a classic cozy. Chocolate pecan clusters to be specific. Delicious home made treats are only a part of the appeal. This consummate southern cozy has much to recommend it: a fabulously specific African American librarian lead, convincingly quirky local scene, fun writing and a satisfying mystery.
Marvella Harris is just 28 years old, but she has an old soul. She moved to the Peach Coast for a reason. In New York, Marvey had trouble gaining traction in her career, but in the Peach Coast, she easily makes her mark. After just a few months, she’s in love with her job and falling in love with the townsfolk, too. As the library’s new director of community engagement, she’s started a book club and organized a book signing. And, she has a new best friend, independent bookstore owner Jolene Gomez. Both are newcomers and outsiders to Camden County. While Marvey is a Brooklyn transplant, Jolene (Jo) is from Florida.
All looks great until a controversial local author turns up dead in the bookstore’s back room. Then chaos breaks out and BFF Jo becomes the prime target of a lackluster investigation. As a Gator fan in Georgia Bulldog territory, clearly justice is not guaranteed. So Marvey jumps head first into the investigation with helpful and handsome local scion and journalist as her helpful sidekick.
Mango, Mambo, and Murder by Raquel V. Reyes (Oct 12)
Family life is as much of a mystery as an unexpected death in this engrossing Caribbean multicultural novel. If compelling characters, authentic cross-cultural family drama, and sharp social commentary are your thing, this is your book.
For the Miami raised Cuban American food anthropologist and cooking show star Miriam Quinones-Smith, moving back to South Florida should feel like coming home. With a handsome environmentalist husband, a newly minted PhD, and an adorable bilingual toddler, and her best friend now in close proximity again, Miriam’s life should be golden. But her husband’s newly distant behavior and her mother-in-law’s barely veiled hostility make the homecoming less than happy. Then, when a woman drops dead at a country club luncheon right next to Miriam, life gets more complex and, honestly, more interesting for the rebellious and independent academic. A vibrant, diverse, LGBTQ-inclusive cast and Raquel Reyes’s deft balance of sensitive topics and frothy intrigue make this a standout.
Murder in G Major by Alexia Gordon
Outstanding original characters, a unique premise, and a supernatural twist set this series apart. Classical musician Gethsemane Brown has multiple gifts. In addition to being a talented violinist, she has a special supernatural sense. None of that seems relevant when she experiences a spectacular string of bad luck. After leaving her job and her boyfriend behind in the States for the opportunity of a lifetime, the job goes bust and her luggage gets lost. Gethsemane finds herself stranded in Ireland. There’s no way she’s turning tail and returning home with nothing to show for herself.
With her options dwindling, she takes a position teaching music at a boys school in the Irish countryside. The job comes with a housing — a historic cottage — and the very famous, very unhappy ghost of a musical legend. Able to communicate clearly with him, she agrees to investigate the death of his late wife and clear his name of both murder and suicide so he can finally rest in peace.
Meddling Family Affairs
Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
If you’re in the mood for diverse cozy mysteries with a little of everything and a lot of laughter, Dial A for Aunties is the genre bending cozy for you. An unconventional mystery with a romcom subplot and family drama running through it, there’s also tight-knit, tightly wound chaotic family vibe. Crazy Rich Asians meets Weekend at Bernies. When wedding photographer Meddy Chan’s mother catfishes her, arranging a blind date with a man who is not what he seems, things spiral quickly out of control. Her aunts will do anything for her, but they’re harder to focus than a herd of cats. Plus the whole family has a mega-wedding to service while trying to dispose of a dead body. Making matters worse, the one that got away, Meddy’s one true love, owns the wedding venue.
Aunty Lee’s Delights by Ovidia Yu
Yu’s Singaporean Mystery Series fits firmly at the more tart than sweet end of the cozy mystery spectrum. Set in the status obsessed upper echelons of Singaporean society, the social observations are razor sharp. If you’ve ever read a British Regency romance, the viciousness of the class conflict and jockeying for position will be familiar. Nonetheless, the unabashed heroine of the series, Rose Lee, manages to float above the fray. A widow, restaurant owner, and a Singaporean Miss Marple, her bite is sharper than it looks. She’s “a plump Peranakan supercook who divided her energies between fixing meals for people and helping them fix their lives (whether they liked it or not).”
Though she’s well respected in local society, Rose’s situation closer to home could use improvement. Her ambitious daughter-in-law thinks she cheated her stepson out of his rightful inheritance though all the law firms she consulted to contest the will disagree. But what’s delightful is that Aunty Lee manages those competing agendas with compassion and aplomb, just like she maneuvers the police. In the first book, when a body turns up and two local women go missing, Rose Lee helps solve the case, not because the police are bumbling, but because she is just exceptionally sharp. A satisfying blend of interpersonal conflicts and more serious subplots involving homophobia and other entrenched issues, the case packs a real punch, revealing much about Singaporean society along with who did it and why.
Arsenic and Adobo By Mia Manansala
Culture and generational clashes enrich this midwestern cozy. Lila Macapagal has long rebelled against her claustrophobic small town upbringing and tight-knit Filipino American family. After graduation, she couldn’t wait to leave Shady Palms behind. Then, she thought her life reached rock bottom when she walked in on fiancé having sex with two of their neighbors. For Lila, being forced to move home with no fiancé, no job, and no college degree represented the nadir, the full trifecta of familial disappointment.
She was wrong: dead wrong. Returning home to Shady Palms, Lila endures not-so-subtle hazing from a gaggle of hypercritical Filipina aunties. Plus, the boy she used to love and now loathes has a habit of hanging out at the family restaurant, doling out scathing reviews on his foodie blog. That was bad enough. It gets worse! You don’t know what the bottom looks like until your ex-boyfriend drops dead face first in a plate of food you just served him in your family restaurant and you become prime suspect number one. Turns out Derek had secrets that may have gotten him killed. But Lila has secrets too, and they place her firmly in the frame.
Real Estate is a Battlefield
Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien
After losing her job, taking a job at her family’s Chinese restaurant feels like a step back for Lana Lee. She’s disgruntled but also broke, she’s got no other options if she wants to hold onto the apartment she shares with her best friend. When the mostly well-liked landlord of an Asian shopping mall dies after eating lunch from her family’s restaurant, Lana Lee finds herself at the center of a murder investigation. As is usually the case in these books, the police are looking in all the wrong directions. So Lana sets her mind to finding out what really happened when a cherished coworker becomes prime suspect number one.
Game of Cones by Abby Collette
Bronwyn Crewse has her hands full after moving back home to Chagrin Falls, Ohio. After earning an MBA and spending years in corporate marketing in the big city, she’s putting that energy and expertise to work for her family. Her main focus: revitalizing the family ice cream parlor another relative nearly ran into the ground. Then there’s a battle brewing over a proposal to “gentrify” their already vibrant and picturesque town square with a controversial new mall. When the lead developer turns up dead after a nasty public fight at the town hall, all the business owners are potential suspects. With a best friend and sidekick who loves to jump to conclusions, hijinks ensue.
Laughter is the Best Medicine
Mimi Lee Gets a Clue By Jennifer J. Chow
This was a perfectly fluffy pandemic surprise: a pet-centric cozy to add to your list of diverse cozy mysteries with a supernatural twist. Though Mimi Lee is the titular protagonist of this series, the real MVP is her fluffy and adorably grumpy sidekick. New pet grooming store proprietor Mimi Lee gets a major shock when she finds that her feline companion, rescue cat Marshmallow, not only speaks, but he’s multilingual, speaking both fluent in human English and dog. I love a furry crime-fighting sidekick that helps solve mysteries. This one is top shelf due to Marshmallow’s caustic tongue and copious amounts of attitude.
The victim in this case is a classically nasty piece of work. Russ Nolan runs a puppy mill with abusive, unsanitary conditions and breeding practices that put the health of the dogs at risk. One is almost tempted to say good riddance to bad trash. No one is broken hearted to see him go. The only catch is that Mimi’s very loud confrontation with him shortly before his death makes her a suspect.
Hollywood Homicide By Kellye Garrett
I’m not used to laughing this much when I read crime novels, so this was an especially nice change of pace. Dayna is a struggling former actress whose claim to fame is a corny catch phrase from a fast-food commercial, a temp worker, and an amateur investigator trying to solve the murder of an acquaintance so she can collect the reward money and save her parents’ house from foreclosure. I loved her sardonic first person narration, her quips and her commentary. All were thoroughly on point. Her mystery solving, not so much.
We hope you enjoy discovering these diverse cozy mysteries. Get more cozy recommendations from these Book Riot lists: