Amateur Detectives and Cozies – Genre Meeting

Reader’s Advisory Genre Study

December 8, 2011

Minutes will be kept at each meeting so that those that are not able to join us can follow along and as a tool to refer back to. Each meeting will include a training session and then the genre study portion of it.

Appeal Factors

Books are not necessary read for the plot but for how they appeal to the reader (fast paced, well developed characters, etc.) Different people have different appeal factors. “Every book a reader and every reader a book.”  A book that one person loves will really turn off another reader. This changes for readers depending on what kind of mood they are in or on their current situation. It is important not to be judgemental when providing reader’s advisory. Avoid words that are loaded like “gory” and “unnecessary detail”.

Refer to handout “Reader’s Advisory: The Complete Spectrum” for a listing and definition of appeal factors.

Participant Comments

When reading a book that you don’t like it is easy to focus on what it is you don’t like and not notice all the things the author does well. It is often these things that makes the book appealing to someone else.

Factors need to be balanced for me. “I’ll tolerate lots of details if it is integral to the story line. In other books details that are not interesting to me and seemed unnecessary are very annoying.”

Narrator – I need to know whose voice the book is written in. It is written from the perspective of the detective or a third person voice?

When someone describes what they don’t like you’ll need to really listen to see if there is any level of tolerance. Often the way the person reads the book means that they won’t notice things that really stand out to someone else. Take it with a grain of salt. One way around this is to ask them to list books that they have read.

Figuring it out – some people enjoy it, others are disappointed, some never do. This goes back to knowing your reader.

What makes a mystery?

Who/how/why done it?  Or even just a suspicion. Was it an accident or suicide or a crime?

Investigation with at least one character and the reader needs not to know

Question and an answer

Solution – can be figured out with the clues

Red herrings

McGuffen – drives the plot forward but it is not important. It stirs the characters into action

Justice or maybe just resolution

The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, p. 196-197, definition of mysteries:

“Mysteries are constructed around a puzzle; the author provides clues to the solution but attempts to obscure some information so that the mystery cannot be solved too easily. We, along with the detective, are drawn into the puzzle in an attempt to solve it. This puzzle involves a crime, usually murder, and, of course, a body. There is an investigator (or a team of investigators), amateur or professional, who solves the question of “whodunit.” The Mystery tracks the investigation, with is concomitant exploration of victim’s, murderer’s, and detective’s lives.

…Novels that fall within the Mystery genre follow a particular pattern: A crime is committed. An investigator pursues the clues, interviewing suspects and drawing conclusions. The crime is solved, and the culprit is brought to justice.”

Cozy or classical mystery/Amateur detectives

Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests, p. 137

“The ‘cozy’ or classical mystery is perhaps best exemplified by the works of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. These stories frequently involve a close, intimate community – a family, a small town, a university. The character of the detective is central to the story’s unfolding, and to the book’s appeal to readers. In these stories, the detective uses close observation and rational deduction to explain how a crime was committed, identifies the single individual responsible for it, and ultimately restores social order by expelling that individual from the community.”

The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, p. 214, Characteristics of the Amateur Detective

  1. These detectives are not professionals who have been specially trained in detecting techniques; they are more likely to “fall into” a case (often involving someone they know) than to be asked to investigate, and they are usually engaged in only one case at a time.
  2. Amateurs have another job or hobby which occupies their time and the details of which supplement the Mystery.
  3. Mysteries featuring amateurs are usually gentler, although there is a range of violence, as well as tone.

Mystery versus Suspense (Handout)

Participant Comments

My life is more of a suspense where a mystery is “neat”.

There is so much genre-blending these days.

Murder at the Vicarage

The audio version is excellent with great voices.

I’ve seen the movie and it clouded my reading.

Marple is grumpy in this one and is not as main a character in this one. This is her first.

What worked?

I liked the map

Satire especially from the Vicar’s point of view

Fast-paced and the twists and turns that kept me guessing

Wonderful characters that I enjoy spending time with

Respect her plotting but never cheats (brings something in the end or leaves something important out)

Strange sounding gun shot, intricate time line

Liked the setting

Liked that I didn’t figure it out

Language is brilliant. Lots buried between the lines.

Class baggage

The cozy village where everyone is this close to killing each other.

It’s not realistic

What didn’t work?

Too mild for me

Not a world I’d like to live in with class issues and power issues

I wasn’t impressed with any of the women and the way the Vicar spoke about women

Are we what we read?

I read this years ago and loved it and reading it many years later I can’t believe that I liked it as much.

Slightly formulaic “from the mystery toolbox”

Characters are all types. No sense of the characters as people. They seemed just to be people to bring clues to the storyline.

I missed the satire entirely. It might be my limited knowledge of English culture.

Everyone is suspected and it bothers me that everyone has a motive and has the potential to being a murderer

Did this make you want to read more Christie?

Poirot, see how Marple’s develops

Christie is from the golden age of Mysteries and there was a pact among authors that it had to be solvable


Everyone should go back and fill in a summary of their second book on the wordpress blog. The summary should be brief and include the plot and the appeal factors. For the next book we should list the title and author once selected and then go back after it is read and leave a summary.

Molly – M C Beaton is also Marion Chesney. Agatha Raisin series Hamish series set in Scotland. At 53 she retires to a small village in the Cotswolds. She had a hard childhood and she is not accepted at the start. She starts out not very likable and she grows and improves through the book. Interesting characters and village life. First in the series is Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death.

Erica – Absolution by Murder set in Ireland in the 6th century. Learned lots about the time period. Nun main character. Some romance. The writing is wooden at times. Great main character. Easy to solve. Long series. Biased (lesbian murderer)

Susan – Edgar Award winner, 3rd series. Impoverished royalty main character. 1930 Satiric about royalty and class. Well written and entertaining. Her Royal Spyness. Girl on her own. Mystery aspect is ok.

Faith – Amateur Detective Nevada Barr first in the series Track of the Cat. Parkranger in the southwest where she went to escape her life. Loves animals. Detailed setting (climate, national parks, geological). Land use issues. Someone found dead by what appears to be a mountain lion. Multiple murders and some blood. May appeal to Hillerman readers. Series moves from park to park. Series has become darker.

Steven – Rex Stout (not Nero Wolfe) subtle mystery Male protagonist unsatisfactory plot

Jane – MC Beaton Skeleton in the Closet set in England, interesting commentary on the time and place, very well written, story of two young people with tough life, no murder but other crimes

Susana – joint authorship (husband and wife) On What Grounds, first in series, set in NYC, contemporary, stand alone coffee house, lots of detail about coffees, barista and dancer found dead in the store. Half the book about a romance.

Jason Mazzotta – Thin Man, the film is better (more fleshed out characters)

Janet – Dead Man’s Island, supposed to appeal to Miss Marple readers, not so. Typical. Plot full of holes. Non likable characters. Narrator is the detective and she is clueless.

Andy – Hazel Dawkins Eye Sleuth local author who regained sight through behavioral optometry, set in NYC, some Japanese, factoids dropped in about behavioral optometry, can tell it is a novice author. Self published.

Ben – Murder with puffins by Andrews fun, fast paced, optimistic, birding, hurricane,

Dylan – Sayers Lord Peter Whimsey mystery, series, humor, relationship, good plot

Paula – Anne George Murder Runs in the Family, mid-series, Alabama, great sense of humor, genealogy, suicide or murder, stumble upon clues, good plot twists, Agatha award winning author,

Julie – Killer Pancake, Goldie Bear mid-series, caterer, divorce, snow, set in Colorado, animal rights sub-plots, recipes. Fun and very descriptive about food.

Molly handed out bookmark to be competed while reading next book.

Feb meeting – police procedural Next book Black Echo by Michael Connelly.

Blog will be filled in with other titles and more info about this genre. List second title on blog once chosen.


9 Responses to Amateur Detectives and Cozies – Genre Meeting

  1. Faith K says:

    Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr
    (Amateur detective)
    Park Ranger Anna Pigeon is suspicious about the “accidental” death of another ranger in her area. National Park Service hierarchy denies there is anything wrong, and Anna follows her instincts into dangerous situations and eventually uncovers the plot that killed her colleague. There’s a lot of detail about the geography of the Southwest and outdoor life.

  2. Molly M says:

    Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton
    This is the first in the Agatha Raisin series. At age 53, Agatha Raisin, who has only known a hard-working life in London, retires to a cottage in a small village in the Cotswolds to ‘live the dream’. She initially has a hard time fitting in to the small village, and decides to try winning a quiche competition…by purchasing a quiche from an upscale shop in London, which poisons the contest judge. (Was it murder or an accident?) She starts out as a not very likable (but not so unlikable that you want to stop reading) and she grows and improves through the book. Interesting characters and village life, and a suggestion of a future romantic interest in future books. Easy pacing, some humor. M C Beaton writes another series with Constable Hamish Macbeth set in Scotland and also writes as Marion Chesney. (Spoiler: I was shocked by the behavior of the librarian in this story!)

  3. Ben says:

    Murder With Puffins by Donna Andrews

    This is the second book in the series featuring amateur detective Meg Langslow, a blacksmith from Yorktown, Virginia. All the books in the series have the name of a bird in the title (in later books this normally takes the form of a pun). Murder With Puffins was fast paced and optimistic, with slightly cartoonish characters, and it’s probably safe to assume this is true of the whole series.

    In Murder With Puffins, Meg and her boyfriend decide they need some time alone, and head off to a tiny island off the coast of Maine where Meg’s aunt has a cottage. When they arrive they are surprised to find Meg’s entire family there already. What’s more, a hurricane keeps them trapped on the island for several days, and Meg soon stumbles over the dead body of the islands grouchy and much disliked famous artist. To make things worse, Meg’s aunt soon confesses, her father is considered the probable culprit by the majority of island residents, and a police investigation would turn up a risque painting of her mother as a young girl. Meg knows it wasn’t her father or her aunt, but can she find the real murderer before the hurricane ends and the police arrive?

    Murder With Pufffins has colorful characters, a memorable setting, and lots of humor. Some aspects of the plot and characterization may not hold up under close scrutiny, but accepting readers looking for a fun quick read will (may?) enjoy this book. (I did!)

  4. Jason says:

    The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

    Nick Charles, a recently married and retired detective, is taken back into the world of mystery solving when a former acquaintance becomes a suspect in a murder case. Clyde Wynan (aka “the thin man”), a wealthy, eccentric businessman, has gone missing after his secretary/girlfriend is found murdered.

    The boozy and sardonic Charles reluctantly takes the case and is thrust into a world of socialites, gangsters and coppers. Our hero trades verbal jabs, takes a bullet (!) and then trades additional jabs with his wife Nora.

  5. Janet M says:

    Dead Man’s Island by Carolyn Hart
    I chose it because the heroine, Henrie O, was called the American Miss Marple. Other than the fact that the detective was a woman and an amateur, I saw little resemblance. Henrie O didn’t solve the mystery using her intellect and perception, she “flushed out” the murderer by most unMarple like means involving physical exertion, guns, and rather violent action. The plot was only so-so and the characters not very interesting.

  6. Paula E. says:

    Murder Runs in the Family by Anne George
    Mary Alice & Patricia Anne are two sisters from Birmingham, Ala. with a penchant for solving murders. At a family wedding they meet a local genealogist, who commits suicide after meeting them for lunch. But they can’t understand why someone who was fine at lunch would commit suicide an hour later. Anne George’s Southern Sisters books are laugh-out loud mysteries which showcase Birmingham, it’s statue of Vulcan (the world’s largest cast iron statue) and Southern culture.

  7. Dylan G says:

    Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers
    The fifth book in Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series, in which Lord Peter first meets Harriet Vane. When Wimsey first encounters Ms.Vane, she is a mystery writer who is wanted for the murder of her lover Philip Boyes. Boyes was a writer as well, known for writing about modern and somewhat controversial subjects like free love and atheism. Already tainted with scandal and much societal whispering due to their unmarried cohabitation and his choice of subjects, she is on trial for his murder when Wimsey first spies her in the courtroom, and decides then and there that not only is she innocent, but that he is love with her and will surely marry her. The case against her seems solid and is founded primarily on the fact she was admittedly in possession of and researching the very poison used to kill Philip Boyes. Wimsey, clouded by love and certainty, visits her in jail and pledges to not only prove her innocent, but to marry her, a proposal which she politely declines, citing the small matters of her present circumstances, and the fact that they do not actually know one another at all. Sayers admittedly based large portions of the Harriet Vane character on herself (Who was, like Vane, an Oxford educated Mystery Writer) and the Vane/Boyes relationship is at least in part based upon a somewhat Bohemian love affair Sayers had with the author John Cournos. The book is filled with the same humorous touches, bits of class satire, and twists and turns that are found throughout Dorothy Sayers’ delightful series following the investigations of the titled gentleman detective.

  8. Tex says:

    The Mobile Library Mystery series, by Ian Sansom (not to be confused with C.J. Sansom).
    Israel Armstrong is an overeducated, underexperienced English, jewish, vegetarian bookstore clerk who gets a job at a library in the wilds of Ireland, only to find that it’s really a bookmobile.
    He investigates and occasionally solves what might loosely be described as mysteries.
    Appeal: Male protagonist. Its about librarians! Humor (wit, even). Irish setting. Characters get stronger as the series progresses. The coziest of cozies: no one ever gets murdered – Israel’s “cases” are missing persons, lost property, etc.

    From the Tumdrum Mobile Library Steering Committee meeting:

    They moved on to the next point on the agenda.
    To note that Council policy on sexual and racial harassment now requires two members of staff (one male, one female) from each library to act as advisers. These advisers to be appointed annually by each library.
    ‘We need to appoint advisers,’ said Ron.
    ‘I’ll advise,’ said Linda.
    ‘Good. Thank you, Linda. So now we need a male,’ said Ron.
    Ted was looking at the floor.
    Israel was pretending he couldn’t hear.
    ‘ Israel?’ said Ron.
    ‘Yes?’ said Israel.
    ‘Sexual and racial harassment?’
    ‘Yes. Terrible,’ said Israel.
    ‘Would you mind?’ said Ron. ‘With Linda?’
    ‘Sexual and racial harassment with Linda?’ said Ted, mostly to himself.
    ‘Yes,’ said Ron.
    ‘Sure,’ said Israel.
    ‘What’s that on your T-shirt?’ said Eileen. ‘”Smack My Bitch Up”?’
    ‘Yeesss,’ said Israel. ‘It’s just a phrase.’

  9. Susana says:

    On What Grounds by Cleo Coyle.
    First in the series (Coffeehouse Mysteries), the actual plot and characters were decaffeinated but the information on coffee preparation was double-espresso.

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