A couple days ago, when I reviewed Erika Chase's Book Fair and Foul, a couple of you had questions about cozy mysteries and traditional mysteries, and particularly where Louise Penny is concerned. The discussion of her series of Inspector Armand Gamache books is wrapping up this week at gamacheseries.com. If you're a fan, I hope you've checked out some of the discussions. Readers have had thoughtful, in-depth discussions of the works, ending with How the Light Gets In, as we await the release of The Long Way Home next week.
I do have some answers, and, before I finish, I'm going to quote an expert. Cozy mysteries have little violence, sexual content or abusive language. Most of the violence takes place offstage. The community is usually a small town or a closed setting. An amateur sleuth is usually the detective.
Cozy mysteries are really a subset of the traditional mystery. Cozies are gentle mysteries in which the world is generally seen as quite nice, except for the murder. Crafts, cats, hobbies, and cooking are often part of the subject of cozies. Cozies are lighthearted, and sometimes humorous, comfort reads.
On the other hand, traditional mysteries may explore dark, sometimes disturbing themes. While Louise Penny's books may be defined as traditional mysteries, they are definitely not cozy. They do involve disturbing themes, even the early books in the series. And, when I quote Enid Schantz, she mentions that traditional mysteries are not police procedurals because the emphasis is on police work. Penny's books include the police, but the procedure of step-by-step investigation is not the point of her books.
When I discussed traditional and cozy mysteries in Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (Seventh Edition), I quoted the late Enid Schantz of Rue Morgue Press, with the permission of her husband, Tom. She summarized this beautifully. "In my view all cozies are traditional mysteries but by no means all traditional mysteries are cozies. A traditional mystery may feature either a professional or an amateur detective (but not, as a rule, a private detective) but is not a police procedural where the emphasis is on police work (Ed McBain). There is a minimum of violence and often a closed setting, and usually the murderer and the victim know each other. Examples of traditional mystery writers are Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, etc. A cozy is a type of traditional mystery which is gentled down ever further, where everyone and everything is nice except the murder.
Traditional - definitely Louise Penny. Also Julia Spencer-Fleming's books. Cozy - Jenn McKinlay, Julie Hyzy, Miranda James.
I hope this helps!