I love a good cozy mystery, and there’s nothing like a review of classic cozies to remind me why I fell in love with the genre. Like most of my fellow cozy authors, I read Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and the Bobbsey Twins as a little girl. Later came Agatha Christie, P.D. James, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, and Patricia Wentworth, to name a few.
When I’m asked who my favorite author is, the short answer is, I don’t have one. That’s because there are too many good authors to name just one, or even ten. But as far as cozy authors go, I think Agatha Christie is the queen.
I recently purchased a set of two books called Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks and Agatha Christie Murder in the Making. Both are by John Curran, who was given access by the Christie family to the notebooks in which Agatha Christie jotted her notes over the many years of her successful career. (I recommend these books to anyone who is a Christie fan. They are slightly repetitious, but full of fascinating insight into Christie and her books.)
While cozy mysteries seem simple, they aren’t. They often depend on deep characterization, and in some cozies, even a bit of caricature. (To write good caricature, the author must have a good grasp of characterization.) The twists and turns of clues have to be presented in such a way to lead to a satisfying ending. The bad guy needs to be obvious, but not obvious. Agatha Christie expresses it perfectly in her biography. “The whole point of a good detective story was that it must be somebody obvious but at the same time for some reason, you would then find that it is not obvious, that he could not possibly have done it. Thought really, of course, he had done it.”
In my cozy-in-progress, I recently changed my mind about who the bad guy is because my original wasn’t developing as I thought he should. That often happens to me as I write a book. Changing bad guys midstream used to make me feel I wasn’t a good author or not organized enough. No more! According to John Curran and the Christie notebooks, Agatha Christie didn’t always know, either. In some of her notebooks, she changed her mind about the bad guys in stories several times.
|Joan Hickson as Miss Marple|
One of my favorite cozy heroines is Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. She is the ultimate amateur detective--someone I could aspire to be when I get old. My husband and I just finished a Miss Marple marathon. We watched the PBS versions starring Joan Hickson, who is my favorite Miss Marple of all time. The shows in which she stars are some of the only ones to stay faithful to the plots as written by Christie.
Joan Hickson is perfect in the role in my opinion. In fact, in 1946, Agatha Christie wrote a letter to Joan Hickson after seeing her in a play. She said, “I hope that one day you will play my dear Miss Marple.” That didn’t happen for another 38 years. When Joan Hickson was 78 years old, she filmed the first Miss Marple for television. (Seventy-eight! Wow.)
Miss Marple made her first appearance in print in a series of six short stories published between December 927 and May 1928 in the Royal Magazine. In the first of those stories, Miss Marple is dressed completely in black and sit in her cottage in St. Mary Mead, knitting and listening and solving crimes that have baffled the police. The first full-length book that featured her was The Murder at the Vicarage. In that book, the vicar’s wife describes Miss Marple as “that terrible Miss Marple. . .the worst cat in the village.” On the other hand, the vicar describes her as “a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner.”
And I guess that is the key to a great hero or heroine in a cozy. The character is multi-faceted—seen by the other characters in the story in many different lights. And that’s what I love about Miss Marple. She can be tough, kind, catty, humorous, and even when she acts befuddled, her brain is ticking like the best clock in the world.