Saturday, December 05, 2015

When Good Cozies Go Bad

All of my readers know I read multiple cozy mysteries each month. And, I do a regular book chat featuring cozy mysteries. One of my sisters reads cozies as well, and she's a better critic of them than I am. We appreciate mysteries set in small towns with a cast of characters that become familiar over time. A cozy mystery series means a return to a comfortable small town and a community of friends. The towns are usually cute little tourist towns. And, there's usually a hook. The protagonist, usually a woman, owns a bakery or restaurant or a craft shop, or some variation. She may be a bookstore owner  or a librarian, a literary agent, a florist. She may be divorced, or lost a job, and moved to the small town. Or, she grew up there, and has returned. The books are comfort reads. But, sometimes there's a problem.

Cozies often go bad when romance enters the picture. Anyone who reads cozy mysteries suspends disbelief. How often is there a murder in a small town? And, how likely is it that the same woman knows the victim, knows the suspect, and gets involved in multiple murders in that town? Those of us who enjoy cozies are willing to "believe" all that happens. But, let's be realistic for a minute. How likely is it that this small-town woman has two men fall in love with her, men who just happen to be handsome and eligible? And, there she is, in book after book, indecisive as to what man she loves.

Please. Even in a romance, the main character finds her true love early on. I'm not going to call anyone out, but I gave up on one long-running mystery series. For how many years can the main character not decide which man she loves when one man builds a house for her and her cat, and the other one cheats on her? I'm sorry. I can accept the murders, the amateur sleuth's involvement time after time. But, those romantic issues are not realistic. And, they're not necessary.

Some of my favorite mystery series feature happy couples. Lee Harris wrote a wonderful series featuring Christine Bennet, a former nun, who married early in the series. Her husband always respected her intelligence, and the way she thought through the cases, usually cold cases. Armand Gamache and his librarian wife, Reine-Marie, are a wonderful couple in Louise Penny's books. Reine-Marie is not the sleuth, but the love, support and intelligence is there. Kate Carlisle's bookbinder, Brooklyn Wainwright, can admire a good-looking man, but she knows which man has her heart.  I'm currently reading Jane K. Cleland's Ornaments of Death. Josie Prescott has been dating the man she loves throughout most of the series. Again, he respects her. And, Clare Cosi in Cleo Coyle's Coffeehouse mysteries is a strong woman whose police detective boyfriend is not only supportive, but, in the most recent book, Dead to the Last Drop, he goes on the run with her. I can name other series in which the sleuth doesn't dilly dally around making decisions about her love life.

Maybe it comes down to respect and intelligence. When the female, whether amateur sleuth or spouse, has enough respect for herself and her intelligence, she finds a man who respects her and her abilities. The right man. And, she's intelligent enough to pick one man, and not put up with an emotional tug-of-war.

I'm not critical of romance in general. I love Nora Roberts' trilogies and Heather Graham's Krewe of Hunters romantic suspense novels. I am critical of romance in cozy mysteries when an otherwise intelligent amateur sleuth turns stupid, taking forever to decide which man is right. That's when good cozies go bad.

59 comments:

Edith Maxwell said...

Great post, Lesa!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Edith. It's my biggest pet peeve, the trope that that says an amateur sleuth has to have 2 men interested in her.

Dru said...

I hear you girl. Gave up a lot of books because of love triangles or indecision.

Christie said...

Well written, Lesa. I don't know what I can add, but the two guy thing just drives me crazy. When you have ar great guy, stick with him. I also don't like it when she sneaks around behind his back. A person needs to use all the available resources, not shun them. Most of these women are intelligent and they need to stop doing things like forgetting to charge a cell phone, or not bringing it along, or breaking a promise which leads to ignoring safety. And while I am writing--what is the definition of a "small" town? So many of them are said to live in them, but they are much, much bigger than my Midwestern town! I don't consider 10,000 residents a small town! Keep posting, Lesa and I will keep reading. Love you!

Joyce Delaney said...

Well said!

SandyG265 said...

I know exactly which series you are talking about and I find the love triangle annoying too. My Mom and I stopped reading the series for the same reason. Although I do look at the new books in the series at the library to check out the recipes.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Great post! My wife feels the same way. In fact, it isn't exactly a cozy series but she quit reading the Janet Evanovich books when it became clear Stephanie Plum would never decide between Joe Morelli and Ranger. In fact, Evanovich has made it clear that will never happen.

Lesa said...

Sad, isn't it, Dru Ann, when you, my sister and I quit mysteries for that reason? We all appreciate those stories, but sometimes those stupid relationship problems get in the way.

Lesa said...

And, that's why I appreciate your comments, Christie. You hit the nail on the head so many times. Maybe I should have entitled it "When Amateur Sleuths Go Bad", and covered all those topics. But, I did have the conversation one other time about sleuths who are friends with police and don't tell them what they know. Arrrggghhh! And, you're right about the small town. But, Mom would make a great amateur sleuth. We already know she knows everyone in Bellevue, Clyde and Fremont, with a lot of Huron thrown in.

Lesa said...

Sandy, Do you check the books while you're at it to see if she's made up her mind? My sister used to keep me posted on the stupidity of that relationship until she quit the books, too. And, you got it. I could tell when you mentioned the recipes.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Jeff. Your wife and I agree on so many of those books. I quit Evanovich's series, too. She was never going to decide, and nothing ever seemed to change. I enjoyed the early books because they were fresh. I enjoyed the humor. When I caught myself not laughing, I knew it was time to quit.

Marleen said...

Great post to which I'd like to add that you wouldn't get away with an open-ended story line like that in a 'proper' romance. For a romance to be qualified as such it has to end on a Happy Ever After or, at the very least, a Happy For Now. So I guess those cozy mystery writers have created a genre unique to themselves; maybe we can call it 'conflicted ever after'? :)

Evelyn David said...

I agree completely. Whether in books or in television series, the "will they/won't they" soon becomes "Who Cares." I have no patience for the "Moonlighting" curse that insists that once you get a pair together, the reader/viewer loses interest. I want strong, smart, funny women (and men) -- and if they can't figure out their right mate in a reasonable space of time (or constantly pick the wrong mate), that's when I lose interest.

Aubrey Hamilton said...

Excellent point! I don't read enough cozies to know which series you're talking about, partly because the emphasis on romance in cozies is tedious. I don't mind a bit of it, after all, it's part of who the character is and most characters are not silent loners who drift from town to town a la Jack Reacher. They have friends and family and adult relationships. But when the mystery takes a back seat to the romance, especially immature romance such as the one you're describing, I'm gone.

Peg Cochran said...

Excellent post and great advice for those of us who write cozies. As an author, I'd much rather have my sleuth be part of a strong couple but sometimes the message we get is that that is "dull." Thanks for clarifying!

Lesa said...

Love that, Marleen, "conflicted ever after". Hah! Very good. And, you're right. A true romance does have a Happily ever after. Some of these books just don't get there.

Lesa said...

Evelyn, you're so right about the Who cares. It reaches that point for me. Sometimes, I'm afraid it's the publisher who doesn't get it.

Lesa said...

I hang in for a little, Aubrey, if I like the character. But, that's not even enough to keep me going when the romantic entanglements get in the way. I'm there for the mystery and characters, not for what you correctly call immature behavior.

Lesa said...

Peg, I've heard today from several avid cozy readers. It isn't a settled couple that makes for a dull book. It's dull writing. The sleuth's emotional entanglements only frustrate those of us who see it as a sign of a sleuth without strength.

Clea Simon said...

Good post, Lesa! I understand the urge to "keep the suspense alive." But really, aren't even good relationships suspenseful enough? I like to see how relationships develop over time. Glad Im not alone.

Rosemary said...

I so agree Lesa - it's both annoying and totally unrealistic. And yes, as you say, we all know repeated murders in small towns are pretty unrealistic too, but that's what the genre is about.

I also agree that it really demeans women to have them dilly dallying about like this.

An old series that I really loved was Amanda Cross's one about Kate Fansler - 'No Word from Winifred'. 'The Players Come Again' etc - I haven't read them for maybe 25 years so I don't know if I'd still like them, but I remember Kate being an academic and feminist as well as an amateur sleuth, and that she had a devoted husband. I understand that the author, who was really the academic (??) Carolyn Heilbrun, took her own life some years after writing the books, and that some US feminists saw this as a cop-out, though I can't remember why.

Rosemary

Jill G. said...

#chooseNormanalready

Sheila Connolly said...

I agree. If your small-town sleuth is smart enough to solve murders, she should know her own mind and heart. Waffling over the course of five or twenty books about which man is the right one is just annoying. (My model has always been Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.)

ckubala said...

Lesa, Your blog post certainly touched a nerve and allowed many to vent. Very interesting discussion. I don't know what series you're talking about either but can agree that I get bored when the "will they?", "won't they?" goes on to long. I also get annoyed when they do and the author can't seem to continue an intelligent story line with a sound relationship.

Margie Bunting said...

Wow, Lesa, I agree with ckubala that you have touched a nerve--lots of responses. I do know what series you are talking about (I think we discussed it at LCC in Monterey), and I must reluctantly admit I am still reading the new books in the series. However, I definitely agree in principle. It is just not realistic, and that does bother me. Thanks for the Moonlighting reference, which brought back fond memories. I agree that when Maddie and David finally got together, it ruined the show, but I don't think that always has to happen. Personally, I'm eagerly anticipating the Sheldon/Amy tryst on Big Bang Theory, regardless of what happens!

Lesa said...

Roesmary, I remember the series, although I didn't read all of the books, and I read about Carolyn Heilbrun's suicide. Sad, but feminists had no reason to talk about it. Suicide is personal. She didn't commit suicide to attack feminism. I don't remember why they were angry either.

There are so many series that are good with women who are decisive. And, the series doesn't suffer because the sleuth commits to one partner, as a partner until the relationship no longer works, or as a partner in life.

Jane Fricker said...

I am not sure which series you referred to first, Lesa, but I agree with you and most of the posters here about the protagonist in a mystery not choosing between two men. I would also add to that the heroine who is "too stupid to live" who goes out to meet a possible murderer without any back-up. I read the first book in a series once where the woman went, not once, not twice, but THREE times to meet with a suspicious person, even after having been attacked the previous times. I skipped to the ending to see if she made it to the end alive, but then that was it for me. Even now when I see enticing new titles when a new book from that series has been released, I give it a wide berth. So I have to say that the "too stupid to live" syndrome bothers me even more than the woman who is caught between two men.

Lesa said...

Love it, Jill! #ChooseNormanalready. Funny!

Lesa said...

Clea, You are so not alone! Yes, you're right. Life itself is suspenseful enough. Throw in the mystery, whether murder or something else, and who needs to worry about which man to choose. I'm with you.

holdenj said...

I agree about the trio/indecision factor. That has been that last straw in a couple of long time series for me, that at one time, had good things going for them.
That said, when it's appropriate, I don't mind a bit of romance. The ones you mentioned are perfect, Armand's wife is smart and supportive. Brooklyn's choice enhances her investigations with his background.

Lesa said...

I don't mind a long dating relationship, Sheila, as in your Orchard mysteries. But, I agree with you. She should know her own mind and heart. Thank you. Intelligence and stupidity over relationships shouldn't be considered to go hand-in-hand. Now, there's two intelligent characters, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.

Lesa said...

You're so right, Carol! And, there's a whole other subject, responsibility. Once the character marries, has children, or even a pet, what happens. That poor hamster in the Stephanie Plum books. One thing I always respected about Sara Rosett's mysteries featuring Ellie Avery, an Air Force wife, is that she always made arrangements for her children when investigating, and she worried about them, and tried to protect them. Relationships and responsibilities are part of life. I like to see them reflected in mysteries. I adored Dorothy Simpson's Luke Thanet mysteries. Good mysteries, but he was also involved in his family's life. There is still room for a plot once the sleuth is settled.

Lesa said...

Oh, Margie! Sheldon and Amy. I'm with you. Can't wait to see what happens with that one. Evelyn brought up the "Moonlighting" curse. A solid relationship based on love and respect can work in a book, just because it didn't work on "Moonlighting". Frankly, I think that was a relationship based on lust rather than love and respect. Look at Ellery Adams' books featuring Olivia Limoges. Long time developing the relationship because of her own troubled past. But, no one has complained with how that relationship turned out - love and respect.

Lesa said...

Jane, That too stupid to live trope bothers me, too. I read so many of those in Gothic novels, and loved them at the time, but that reached the point where I said, and you have to go out in the dark in high heels by yourself without letting anyone know, and you're meeting some stranger? That does occur with cozies, but, at least in the series I read, the trios seem to be more prevalent. And, I'm going to mention Jane K. Cleland's new book again. I'm reviewing it tomorrow. It's just about the opposite of everything we complained about. Yes, Josie is injured in the course of the story (that's not a spoiler), but it's not because she's stupid. And, her boyfriend respects her. She works with the police, not against them. This series has gone so far from the first couple books. Josie Prescott has grown in the course of the series, and I don't find them boring just because she's in a committed relationship. In fact, Cleland has a wonderful conversation with someone about it.

Lesa said...

Holdenj, You're right. How many of the amateur sleuths are dating a cop, reporter, etc., someone who does enhance her investigative skills? Usually after they, or someone they love is a suspect in the first or second book, they become involved. It's just part of the pattern. But, the authors don't have to throw in another man to make the reader come back. The reader is coming back for the sleuth and the mystery. And, this reader tends to drop a series if the relationship decision is wishy-washy.

Nancy said...

Right on! I've quit two series for the forever triangle reason.

Lesa said...

Yes, I've quit several, Nancy.

Leann Sweeney said...

Thanks Lesa. I have no patience for it, so when I began writing, I knew what I wanted to do and what I would not do in my series. Intelligence is more attractive than any trait and if my detective isn't intelligent, she cannot solve a mystery. The police in my stories respect intelligence.

Lesa said...

I would think, Leann, that most authors would feel that if their detective wasn't intelligent, she couldn't solve mysteries. Maybe I'm wrong. Readers respect intelligence, too!

Mark Baker said...

I knew right off the bat which series you were talking about. I've kept reading it, although the quality of the last few books has gone down hill. (Can we say after thought mystery anyone?) I'm happy to report that she picked someone at the end of the last book. If anyone wants to know spoilers, e-mail me and I'll tell you. carstairs38 at gmail

But I completely agree with you. Frankly, I love it when the main character is in a happy relationship. Meg Langslow in Donna Andrews series comes to mind. Another is Odelia Grey and her husband Greg in Sue Ann Jaffarian's series. Both are in strong marriages, and I love the series for it.

Frankly, that was one of several reasons I loved the Teddy Bear series written by John J. Lamb. The main character was married from the very beginning and they were so very much in love. It was a refreshing change from the "does he like me," which is almost as annoying to me as the love triangle.

I do try to keep in mind how long it has been for the characters vs. us. If, say, three books take place in three months, I try to remember that it isn't as long for the characters even if it has been three years for us. But it still wears on me.

As to the Moonlighting curse, I am going to swat the next person who brings it up as an issue. I get so sick of hearing about it with shows I like. It all comes down to the writers. If they are good, they can keep the stories fresh. But when they make bad choices... (this year's writers on Castle, I'm glaring directly as you.)

Okay, I'll stop ranting now.

Lesa said...

Love your rant, Mark, and this was the perfect place for it. You are SO right about all of it. Poor Castle. I gave up on it after a couple episodes. And, actually, I almost quit last year when he didn't make it to his wedding. I think they went wrong already last year.

I loved the Teddy Bear series! I was so sorry that there were so few books in it. You're right. They were so much in love. I also enjoy the marriage in Bill Crider's Sheriff Dan Rhodes books. The conversations between Sheriff Rhodes and his wife may be a minor part of the book, but they certainly show how much the couple loves each other. They're funny conversations, and loving at the same time.

Totally agree. And, I was so pleased to see Jane K. Cleland's Josie Prescott have a conversation about trusting the man she loves, and that she's trustworthy. Timely conversation because I read it today after my rant.

Loved your rant! And, now I'm curious. If she didn't pick Norman, she's an utter fool.

Carol M said...

I so agree with you! It's good to see that so many others feel the same way!

SandyG265 said...

Lesa, someone told me she added a third man to the mix. I haven't checked though.

Anne Egbert said...

I knew exactly which series you were talking about. I have quit reading it entirely because of this.

Carol N Wong said...

What a great beef! I hate that too about some cozies and have two more qualms. One is the human dymano. I have a bunch of chronic illnesses and it irritates me that a woman in one series can be a supermom, spend a lot of time of making decorations and different foods for the holidaya and solve a complicated murder mystery. She is up at dawn and working into the wee hours of the night.

My other one is when the heroine breaks laws, breaks and enters and violates other laws. Why can she use her brain and figure things out.

My favorite cozies have women who either don't have a love interest or they have just one. I loved a dog themed one that had a sleuth who was already married and there were no romantic triangles.

Lesa said...

Everyone who wondered, you're right. According to Mark Baker, there is a third man. Write to Mark for the answer. I did because I was curious but didn't want to bother with the books any more.

Lesa said...

Carol, My Mom was supermom and could have done all of that.

Totally agree with you about the breaking laws. I don't agree with that. And, I like those cozies as well, the same ones you do. And, not every woman has to have a love interest.

Bonnie K. said...

Excellent! I'm glad you wrote this. So, I'm not alone in finding a woman's constant indecisiveness annoying. LOL

Birdhouse Books said...

Great post! I agree completely. I would much rather read a book with a happy couple or a happy single than all the silly romantic triangle back-and-forth.

Barb Ross said...

I sometimes think the problem with some of these triangles is the difference between "book time" and "real time." It may feel to the reader like a triangle goes on for decades, but it may only be a couple of years in "book time."

That being said, I agree with your observation. If the protagonist was a friend, eventually you'd say, "Make up your mind or shut up about it, already," so why put up with this behavior from a fictional person you a volunteering to spend time with.

My first book, The Death of an Ambitious Woman, did feature a happily married sleuth. It did remove some sources of tension and plot possibilities, but it was by no means impossible.

Sharon said...

What a great post Lesa! I also gave up on the series you mentioned. The love triangle was the first reason but the second was the writing. I felt she was writing for an elementary reader and I was insulted. I've given up on many of the cozy mysteries I used to enjoy like the Tea Shop mysteries by Laura Childs and the China Bayles mysteries by Susan Wittig Albert because of plots. Right now my favorite ones are the Amory and Milo Ames series by Ashley Weaver, the Spice Shop Mysteries by Gail Oust, and the Celebration Mysteries by Shelley Freydont. I cannot decide whether it is my taste in reading is changing or the genre is becoming overloaded catering to specific interests of their readers. I sort of look at cozies as palette cleansers that are easy and fun. I'll stick with the series if I like the characters enough but once the love triangle goes on for too long to my liking or the plots to ridiculous, I move on to another series. It is odd though when you think about it that there are so many dating services around and yet these heroines seem to have more than their share of suitors? Thanks for the discussion. I enjoyed reading and participating in it.

Lesa said...

You're certainly not alone, Bonnie, in finding that indecisiveness annoying, as you can tell by the discussion.

Lesa said...

Yes, Birdhouse Books. What's the matter with a happy couple or single who represents part of the population?

Lesa said...

Barb, You're right about the difference in real time and book time. But, no matter how long it goes on, if those triangles are bothering readers, forcing us to quit reading them, they've gone on too long. Good for you, having a happily married couple!

Lesa said...

Sharon, Sometimes it does feel as if taste changes. Over the years, I've dropped series I once loved, and moved on to others. Sometimes the cozy mysteries are palate cleansers. Sometimes, it's the other way around, that I can read multiple ones of those, but need a break at times. I like Oust's and Freydont's as well. Thanks for participating in the discussion!

BPL Ref said...

Great post, Lesa, and obviously you hit a nerve. I totally agree. My other pet peeve is the single suitor but the heroine is so insecure that every book she spends part of the time worried whether he still loves her, if he's interested in someone else, is he going to leave her, etc. etc. He buys flowers, doesn't give them to her, she's sure he's seeing someone, and it turns out they were for his grandmother's birthday or something. I like a bit of romance in my stories as well, but manufactured drama/angst that does nothing to advance plot or character is annoying.

Patty said...

Great post, Lesa. I agree about the indecision of "which man". I too stopped a series because of this -- it is still going strong but I haven't read one in years. Too bad because otherwise it was an interesting premise.

Lesa said...

BPL Reference, I totally agree with you. Why is the heroine so insecure? And, those nerves I touched? It sounds as if we all have the same problems with these series characters.

Lesa said...

I agree, Patty. Too bad the publishers and authors can't figure it out. One storyline repeated over and over usually doesn't work. Some of the biggest names can get away with it - Janet Evanovich was mentioned earlier. But, I've even stopped reading her books because I tire of reading the same story when there's so much else out there.