Recently at a mystery conference awards event, a fellow author remarked “I wish they wouldn’t even include the cozy mysteries. They don’t have any substance.”
It was an unintentional insult. She just didn’t think. But really? Really? I mean, seriously, why would anyone say something like that? Especially to a couple of cozy writers.
And how on earth do you respond to a comment like that? Well, after we broke her knees… oh, wait, we didn’t really do that…after all we’re cozy writers.
Even worse, we’re humorous cozy writers. Not us – the books. We’re pretty funny and all (especially after a couple of margaritas) but what we’re really trying to say is that our mysteries have a humorous tone. We hope.
A double-whammy in the serious world of killing people off in books.
Amateur sleuths, particularly women amateur sleuths, are often targeted by critics as fluff. And if that amateur sleuth happens to be in books with names like say, Desperate Housedogs, Get Fluffy, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, or Yip/Tuck? Can you say, big target. Huge fluffy target.
But wait a doggone minute. The female amateur sleuth goes all the way back to Agatha Christie. Miss Marple didn’t exactly enter the drawing room guns blazing. Though we know she’s no wimp, Jane Marple is a woman who very much relies on her wits to solve the crime. No fancy forensics, no intense interrogations, no official authority. It’s all about the fact that other people underestimate her. Then she uses her very shrewd understanding of human nature to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Which all comes back to observing and understanding people. Interesting people. People with secrets.
And people are funny. People trying to keep secrets can be extra funny. Which brings us to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum.
We would posit Stephanie Plum as a modern day Miss Marple with just as much reliance on her observance of humans being human. Okay, St. Mary Mead is a long way from Jersey. And Jane Marple is more tweed suits and sensible shoes while Stephanie is more high-heeled boots and Levi’s. Stephanie does have a gun, but we’d point out that she mostly keeps it in a cookie jar. No official authority in the investigation, and yet in the end she figures out why things went down the way they did.
And if there’s an explosion (car or otherwise), a wardrobe malfunction, or a funeral home visitation gone wrong, all the better. There’s still a puzzle to be figured out, there’s still an injustice to set right, and Stephanie is not going to give up. She will keep asking questions until she gets to the truth.
Both amateurs. Both smart and tenacious. Both students of human nature.
So, here’s to Marple and Plum. Two ladies who are who they are; and who use who they are to intrigue and entertain us. (You can’t see us, but we’re raising our margarita glasses. Clink. Clink.)
But back to our cozy critic for a moment. How would Miss Marple and Ms. Plum have handled the unintentional insult?
Here’s what we think:
Jane Marple would have looked at her curiously and perhaps remarked, “I see.”
Stephanie Plum might have flipped off a, “Well, yippy skippy.” (Maybe something stronger.)
Our reaction? “Hmmm.” We looked at each other and smiled. Isn’t human nature interesting?
What are your thoughts? What do you think about genre labels? What do you think about responding to unintentional insults? What do you think…should we have just broken her knees?
Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of mystery authors Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter who co-write the Pampered Pets Mystery Series featuring feuding former Texas beauty queen cousins Caro Lamont and Melinda Langston, who study human nature and often find themselves in the midst of murder investigations in the posh pet-friendly community of Laguna Beach, California.