Unboxing Cozy Mysteries

Today’s guest post is by cozy mystery writer Gayle Trent. Her novel Murder Takes the Cake is a delicious confection of characters, humor, cake decorating, and of course murder.  Trent’s novel is the first in her planned Daphne Martin mystery series.  We were pleased when Gayle agreed to guest blog with us because it allows us to turn the spotlight on one of our neglected genres — classic mysteries.

Murder Takes the Cake was a semi-finalist in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award contest, out of an initial submission pool of nearly 5000 novels in January of 2008, an amazing achievement. 


What a character!

Characters are what take cozy mysteries “out of the box.” Cozy writers use hobbies, professions and even obsessions to make their characters unique. I have an interest in cake decorating, so I infuse my hobby into a profession for my character. Even though I’m a novice cake decorator, I have the knowledge to make my character an expert.

Judith Skillings and her husband own and operate a Rolls-Royce and Bentley restoration shop. Not surprisingly, her cozy mystery heroine works in a classic automobile restoration shop. Ellen Crosby introduces readers to Virginia’s wine country in her mysteries. Camille Minichino has a Ph.D. in Physics. She writes the periodic table mysteries. Sheila Lowe, a graphology expert, pens cozy mysteries wherein the heroine is an expert handwriting analyst.

Some cozy writers add a paranormal bent to their books. Alice Kimberly, author of the Haunted Bookstore Mystery series, employs the ghost of a murdered P.I. to help the heroine solve crimes. Madelyn Alt writes the Bewitching Mysteries, and Victoria Laurie writes the Ghost Hunter Mysteries.

Getting to know you . . . .

Since many cozy mysteries are series books, the reader has time to develop “relationships” with the books’ main characters. The reader watches the characters grow and interact from book to book. While these might be the most unlucky people on the planet—murder victims are turning up around practically every corner—they’re still falling in love, making new friends, caring for pets and pretty much happily going about their lives. Diane Mott Davidson’s character Goldy has gone through quite a lot of changes since her first book, Catering to Nobody. There we met a divorcee with a young son. Now Goldy has remarried and little Arch is all grown up. In that way, cozy mysteries are rather like a soap opera; only you have to wait a long time between installments. Which reminds me of Lost . . . although my series doesn’t have a dark cloud monster or a plane crash. At least, not yet. :-)

One reviewer said of Murder Takes the Cake, “I could identify with Daphne’s relationship with her family. I think this was the part I liked best. Daphne has a cautious and teeth gritting relationship with her mother, a loving warm one with her father and her sister.” I was surprised that this is what she “liked best” about the book. I’d intended to give the characters depth through their relationships, and I’d tried to make those relationships realistic. In fact, the publisher even asked me to tie up the heroine’s relationship with the stray cat at the end of the book. I couldn’t do that and remain realistic. The cat in book is based on a real cat, and it took me months to establish a relationship with her. The fictional relationship will progress in the next book, as will all of Daphne’s other relationships.

It is really cool how readers of cozy mysteries become attached to characters and loyal to authors. In fact, every year cozy readers gather in Arlington, Virginia for the Malice Domestic “Fun Fan” convention to celebrate cozy mysteries and their authors. It’s quite a coup for an author to win an “Agatha,” the teapot awards given by Malice Domestic. And the convention is a terrific experience. As a fan as well as an author, I was thrilled to meet Dorothy Cannell and Harley Jane Kozak at the Malice Domestic convention a few years back. Both are delightful ladies with great senses of humor. Naturally, I told them I love Ellie Haskell and Wollie Shelley, respectively. And I do. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next.

Thank you, Gayle!

Murder Takes the Cake is available at all online and bricks ‘n mortar retailers.



  1. says

    I think it’s true no matter what genre we write in–characters make or break the story. So I’m not surprised that the reader said she liked Daphne’s relationship with her family best. Even when there is an intricate plot with murder and mayhem, readers still need someone to relate to. ;)

    That’s funny that your publisher suggested an ending to your book! (Tying up your protagonist’s relationship with the stray cat.) And you said no. Good for you!

    Thanks for the great post. :)

  2. says

    Thanks for helping us to understand this genre a little better, Gayle. I visited the Malice Domestic site and pulled an official definition of a traditional mystery, too, which I thought was interesting: The genre is loosely defined as mysteries which contain no explicit sex or excessive gore or violence; and usually (but are not limited to) featuring an amateur detective, a confined setting, and characters who know one another. I’m feeling more enlightened by the minute. Thanks again!

  3. Marcia says

    That was a great post. I think I need to get back to reading mysteries, and especially yours. :)

  4. says

    Congrats on the post-ABNA success! I should have entered… lol. Maybe this year? (Not sure if they’re doing it again.)

    Anyway, I had no idea what a “cozy” mystery is, so this was a lovely introduction. Thank you!

  5. says

    This was great, Gayle. Being an expert in whatever your character does really gives that level of prized authenticity. The character seems real. So it’s no surprise that readers follow a good character book after book.

    It feels like the pendulum is swinging back and cozy mysteries will have a resurgence of popularity. All success on your series!

  6. Cheri (Sherry Hooker) says

    Great blog. I’ve been following Gayle’s blog tour and am completely captivated by Murder Takes The Cake. Waiting impatiently for the next in the series.

  7. says

    I love cozy mysteries, and it seems like they are making a comeback–and it looks like Gayle’s book is with them. Another series I love–not sure if it is a “cozy” or not, but is Alexander McCall Smith’s books about the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Are those cozies?