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A Civilised Murder: Why We Love Cosy Crime

A Civilised Murder: Why We Love Cosy Crime

‘Cosy Crime’ may seem an odd name for a genre in which murder is almost guaranteed, yet it’s never been more popular. Everyone knows what the term means – a crime story (normally, yes, a murder mystery) in a bucolic setting (a country house, a country village, a country vicarage…) which sees a mild-mannered detective unmask the culprit through application of brain power (rather than car chases and guns).

Nowhere is the genre more popular than on TV. They’re not always billed as cosy crime, but shows like Death in Paradise, Madame Blanc, Father Brown, Mrs Sidhu Investigates, and Midsomer Murders are all very cosy indeed. Look further back and you’ll find Miss Marple, Rosemary & Thyme, Murder She Wrote… and, um, Midsomer Murders. You could even make an argument for Inspector Morse, although that one’s debatable because cosy crime stories generally end on an upbeat note.

An important element of all these series is that they feature a recurring cast of characters whom we come to know and love over time, and the same is also true of long-running book series. The interaction and relationship between principal characters is as fundamental to the genre as the sleuthing.

Cosy crime fiction doesn’t always enjoy the enormous success of its screen brethren (despite many shows being adapted from books) but the subgenre has endured for many years, often flying under the radar. Some of its authors even shy away from the term ‘cosy’ because their books cover subject matter that definitely isn’t, such as domestic abuse, sexual harassment, social deprivation, psychopathic murder, racism, bigotry and more.

More recently, a new generation of authors has broken out even further from traditional confines to produce what I call Modern Cosy; books that take place in urban centres, star working-class detectives, and feature characters who behave like real people rather than someone from The Mousetrap.

Whatever the changes and differences between generations, though, what these books share is a focus on the puzzle of the crime rather than brutality and gore; a light touch, often with a wry sense of humour; and a sense of justice. These are qualities readers love and seek out (and which I embrace in my own Dog Sitter Detective mysteries). Justice may or may not be achieved in ways poetic, and normally without blood and guts flying all over the page, but it will be done.

The church of cosy crime has never been broader, and this variety combined with modern cosy’s innovations has made it a resurgent force in crime fiction.

Of course, we can’t ignore the success of Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series as part of this renaissance. Osman has brought a new audience to the subgenre, and after devouring his books many readers look for more to sate their newly-acquired appetite. Every author, myself included, is grateful for this renewed interest.

But our current popularity is about more than just star power. Cosy crime is such a fitting term because it signals values that readers are looking for in our current times – where the news is an endless parade of disaster, politics lurches from crisis to crisis, and the future seems precarious.

In such a world, the appeal of escaping to one where intelligence, fairness, and justice prevail is obvious. One might even call it civilised.

The Dog Sitter Detective Takes the Lead by Antony Johnston is published in hardback by Allison & Busby on the 25 January 2024

Antony Johnston’s career has spanned books, award-winning video games and graphic novels including collaborations with Anthony Horowitz and Alan Moore. He wrote the New York Times bestseller Daredevil Season One for Marvel Comics and is the creator of Atomic Blonde which grossed over $100 million at the box office. The first book featuring Gwinny Tuffel, The Dog Sitter Detective, was the winner of the Barker Fiction Award. Johnston can often be found writing at home in Lancashire with a snoozing hound for company.

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