April 5, 2013

SEX and the cozy mystery

Let's talk about SEX. Specifically, if I write a mystery and add a little sex to it, can it still be a cozy? What, you thought I was going to talk about my sex life? Not so much. We'll talk about Agatha Christie's sex life.

No, I've been trying to figure out which genre my novel, Roses and Daisies and Death, Oh My!, falls into. I consider it a Cozy Mystery. But would Agatha Christie agree? She was the master of the cozy. She set the standard - a nice little murder mystery with no on-screen (as it were) violence, no off-color language, and no sex.

Her sleuths seemed quite naive, but were actually pretty worldly and astute. The likes of Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot were never shocked for they were all too aware of the evil people were capable of. But it was all very civilized. They solved crimes with the use of 'little grey cells' and a deep knowledge of human nature. They never resorted to fisticuffs, car chases, or firefights.

Her books were filled with a lots of evil people who thought nothing of knocking off victims both innocent and not so innocent. Murder, often an alarming number of murders in any given book, was perfectly acceptable, but not in front of the reader! 

Her stories contained no bad language, though they did have an awful lot of French, which I found annoying.

And, of course, no one was bed hopping. There were no steamy scenes. An Agatha Christie novel was suitable for anyone ten years old and up. Let's face it, Agatha Christie knew what she was doing. She was writing for an age that liked to pretend that sex didn't exist.

Fast forward to 2013. As a writer of cozy mysteries today, I have to ask myself if strict adherence to that template will work for me. I mean, we live in a time when sex is everywhere and really deplorable language has become part of everyday vocabulary, not that that's a particularly good thing. It just is.

So how much sex and/or language can be inserted into a nice little mystery and it still be considered a cozy? In Roses and Daisies and Death, Oh My! the sex is pretty much limited to a small dog who has no sense of appropriate behavior.

The woman who edited my manuscript found his behavior offensive and inappropriate in a cozy. Luckily, my publisher (Intrigue Publishing) agreed with me that Malcolm is just plain amusing. Yes, humping is not strictly Christie-kosher, but I think it works.

As to language, there is some in my book that you would never hear from a Christie character. It isn't gratuitous. I didn't add it for shock value. I think it all fits in with the characters. When people are angry, scared or stressed they sometimes say things they wouldn't in other circumstances. But, again, according to my editor, not in keeping with the cozy model.

So I think what I've got is, perhaps, a Modern Cozy. There is still no on-screen violence. I personally think that is the most important aspect of the cozy mystery. I don't think you can cross this line and still have a cozy.

But there is some amusing 'sex'. And there are some references to adult relationships, but nothing at all overt. And there is a bit of language. But really, a ten year old can read Roses and Daisies and not be scarred for life. Actually a ten year old probably knows a lot more 'language' than I do and, I'm afraid, they might know more about sex.

So, what do you think? I'd love to hear from other writers and readers.


  1. Hmm, I think that a cozy mystery is a novel that you can curl up with and enjoy the book without feeling like you need a shower afterwards or a bar of soap sticking in your mouth. Although I am not a cozy writer, I find that many cozy novels have a little 'instance' of sexual content but again, off screen. Off screen is fine for a cozy, after all Agatha Christie didn't get her by immaculate conception did she?

  2. I think the "cozy" has to evolve over time like all other kinds of literature. in the 21st century hard boiled detectives can be women, sci-fi stories can happen inside a computer, and cozy characters have to live in today's world. Maybe we should change the name to "traditional" mysteries because "Roses and Daisies..." as lovable characters, a nice homey setting and a nice whodunnit you won't guess until the very end. That should be enough for any reader.

  3. Hey Penny,

    Sorry I arrived late, but I've been very busy.

    I agree that genres not only should evolve, but must evolve to stay relevant. Even fiction, as broad a term as that is, now includes Creative Fiction, which is a mushing of non-fiction with fiction.

    Evolution is a two-way street as well. Consider the noir stories and movies mentioned in the previous comment. When did you last see the hero slapped the hell out of some woman because she was hysterical?

    That's right. It doesn't happen anymore. The Feminist Movement saw to that, and Bogie is probably rolling over in his grave. Yet violence is not only prevalent, it's almost a requirement in today's entertainment. My point is, evolution works in both directions.

    My advice ... write what pleases you. If you do, I think you’ll find that there are probably several hundred thousand people out there who will like it too.

    PS – I used a bit of French in my novel as well.


  4. A great discussion. My cozies have romance, for sure, and it can get a little hot and heavy. But I definitely draw the line at sex scenes. And you might read a "damn" or two, but no f-bombs.