When I tell folks I write “Cozy” Mystery, it is often followed by a blank look while their gears and cogs translate the term. More often than not, coming up empty, they ask, “what is a ‘cozy’ mystery?” Fair enough, the words cozy and murder, mystery, whodunit, are not exactly twins of the same mother, not even fraternal twins.
One of the key features of a cozy mystery is setting, specifically, a village setting. In the same way a Gothic novel relies on a spooky setting, featuring a large creepy house, a little woo-woo, and gas lighting with things that go bump in the night, a dominate feature of the cozy mystery is the charming village setting. (There are other features, but let’s go with this one this week.)
Setting is very important and tells the reader, here is a book about a place with small-town charm, with a village vibe. There will be quaint neighborhoods, with characters like your neighbors, inclusive of all of their flaws and gifts, eccentrics, salt-of-the-earth types, a close-knit community, and basically, just a sweet mélange of quirky characters.
Hey, that sounds like one of my favorite places on the planet, West Point, Virginia! Oh yeah, and that’s the setting of my latest series.
Why? Well, West Point, VA has some really unique features:
- Main Street vibe. Think Mayberry, Back to the Future in the 1950s scenes, small-town America.
- Geographic features – West Point, VA is a town built on a peninsula, so you can’t help but be tight-knit when you live in a town that is surrounded by water with only one way out! (Wooooo.) There are also dolphins, eagles, otters, muskrats, and fiddler crabs in the surrounding marshland.
- The People. – the thing that always strikes me about this town is the friendliness of its residents. It is striking, the number of people who hold a door for you, stop in the middle of traffic to let you cross the street (and no one lays on their horn in frustration over their kindness.) It’s the place where a group of neighbors get together biweekly at someone’s garage for a bluegrass jam/potluck, where folks invite their neighbors to set up their lawn chairs in front of their homes during the Crab Festival and parade.
- History. – one of the features of my series is an old hotel, once a resort, now fallen into decay. The town of West Point’s real resort hotel was lost in a fire in the early 1900s.
Some other examples of books featuring this cozy feature: Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series set in and around Bishop’s Lacy in the U.K., Midsommer Murder Mystery Series by Caroline Graham, Maggie Blackburn’s Beach Reads Murder Mysteries, and although it is not generally found in the cozy sub-genre, I would argue that Louise Penny’s Three Pines is a great cozy setting.
What are your favorite cozy villages, real or literary? Or cozy reads? I’m always looking for another series or stand-alone with a great cozy vibe.
If it’s quirky characters and a village vibe you’re looking for in your whodunit, I invite you to check out the first book in my latest Tidewater Mystery Series, DEATH OF A SERIAL HUSBAND. Unlike the real people in West Point, VA, the citizenry of the town of Poropotank are always up to something involving mischief… followed by the occasional murder in a very cozy setting. (Bwahahah.)