The "word" unCozy is a term I coined to describe the kind of English village murder mysteries that I like to read and write.
However, before I get into the attributes that qualify a book or story as an unCozy mystery, let's look at the attributes that most readers agree qualify a book or story as a cozy mystery.
The top two qualifiers, according to cozy readers, are no overt violence or sex.
Other qualifying attributes include: an educated, engaging amateur sleuth, generally a woman (with some notable exceptions), who lives in a hamlet, village, or small town, who is self-employed or retired, and whose occupation or hobby brings her into contact with crimes generally committed by people she knows or by an outside entity in some way associated with someone she knows.
In the cozy mystery, the emphasis is on solving the puzzle and discovering who done it rather than on the details of the murder. Because the sleuth is an amateur, there is often a long-suffering relative, friend, or acquaintance who is employed in law enforcement whom the sleuth is able to consult or draw into her investigations.
And finally, the number one element that qualifies a murder mystery as a cozy: SETTING. Readers want to experience colorful, quirky, eccentric characters who are neighbors that know and care about one another, and whose secrets are revealed during domestic dramas that are played out in quaint, pastoral settings where, by the end of the story, order, peace, and tranquility are restored to the village and its inhabitants.
Also, despite the fact that the story is about MURDER, a cozy mystery is expected to include some element of fun.
Okay, that said, what is an unCozy murder mystery?
An unCozy murder mystery has many of the much-loved elements of the cozy. You'll recognize the quaint village setting, the amateur sleuth or the shrewd "country copper," a cast of quirky characters, and a cracking good puzzle full of twists and turns and red herrings.
But here's the difference, in an unCozy murder mystery you might be an eye witness to foul murder by strange and unusual methods. You might encounter controversial social issues and gray areas where "good" and "evil" are not easily defined. You'll most likely experience a satisfying, if not quite happy, ending. And after you're done an unCozy mystery, you might be left thinking about things not easily resolved, and you might be feeling just a bit uneasy, because an unCozy mystery is:
a little darker,
a little deeper,
a little more disturbing.
And for those readers who like a little shadow with their sun, an unCozy mystery can be a whole lot of fun!
Three of my favorite unCozy murder mysteries are:
The Killings at Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham
Road Rage by Ruth Rendell
and An English Murder by Louise Doughty
© 2017 JM Reinbold
"Every time I go into any Midsomer village it's always the same thing: blackmail, sexual deviance, suicide, and murder."
Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (Midsomer Murders)
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