I read many books in a year, but I still can’t claim an encyclopedic reading of the cozies that were published in 2021. These delicious morsels of storytelling are reason for joy, as the storytellers, even though they include murders, are in general optimistic. You like the characters in these books, and would love to be friends with them. These are my favorites this year. For a really deep dive, check out Dru Ann Love’s blog, Dru’s Book Musings, which tackles everything in the cozy universe. All of these titles are available on our website.
Denise Swanson remains one of my favorite cozy writers. Now twenty-three books into her Scumble River series (now billed as “Return to Scumble River”), she’s still cooking with gas. The books are packed with humor as well as real world details of main character Skye Dennison’s work as a school psychologist, a job Swanson herself held for many years.
Cozy writers have to strike a tricky balance between addressing an issue but not being too harsh with it. In a bravura first sequence, Skye is attending a meeting with Superintendent of schools Shamus Wraige, who has unceremoniously fired the school security officer because Scumble River is a small town and “It’s not as if anyone here is going to pull a Columbine or a Sandy Hook.”
Ever since Nancy Drew met Ned Nickerson, love stories have been a part of crime fiction. Maybe not the main player, but some books have relationships that help define them. Here are some of my favorites.
In the golden age, Patricia Wentworth stands out, as she always foregrounded romance as part of her stories. Unlike some of the other authors I’ll mention, she wrote a series, but the romantic characters didn’t recur or involve the main characters, with one exception: Miss Silver Comes to Stay (1948), where Rietta Cray and Randal March, a former pupil of Miss Silver’s and now a Chief Constable, find slightly late in life love. March is a re-occurring character, and he and Rietta appear in other books, complete with a family to Miss Silver’s doting delight. Love in a Wentworth novel is quiet, intense and somehow dignified.
In 1962, a woman named Phyllis James sat down and wrote Cover Her Face, the first Adam Dalgleish mystery. Two years later, in 1964, Ruth Rendell wrote her first Reg Wexford mystery, From Doon with Death. These two women pulled the golden age format created by Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers into the present, and as they wrote, they deepened the form psychologically, writing darker, more intense and longer books as their careers progressed. They were the godmothers of what I think of as the contemporary noir police novel, and writers like Jill McGowan, Colin Dexter, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, Elizabeth George and many others have carried it forward.
The second in a new series from the talented Denise Swanson, and a wrap up to a favorite series by Heather Blake, by our reviewer Cathy Akers-Jordan.
Leave no Scone Unturned, Denise Swanson.
Former corporate executive Danielle (Dani) Sloan helps solves murders, when she’s not busy running her catering business, that is. Set in the college town of Normalton, IL, Dani is busy selling lunches to students and catering private dinners as a personal chef. She can’t help it that she keeps getting involved in murder cases or the fact the she’s attracted to the campus head of security, Spencer Drake.