Guest Post by G.P. Gottlieb, author of Charred: A Whipped and Sipped Mystery
I prefer reading mysteries in which characters live normal lives. They do their jobs, grocery shop, go to the dentist, and order new air purifier filters. When I read a novel, I want to see (or be able to imagine) regular people who sometimes need to find a pen that works, compare airline prices, or scroll through pictures of cute babies.
In cozy mysteries, characters are like people we might know. They worry about what they’re wearing or nervously sit at the bar waiting for a blind date. They stroll down an avenue and look in shop windows until they need to pull out a concealed weapon and stop a bad guy from going on a rampage. (That last bit might be less common). The heroine is usually the kind of person who has a charming hobby, runs a business involving yummy food, and volunteers at an animal shelter.
But in suspense thrillers, there’s no time for pets, no one frets about what shoes go with which outfit, and only the protagonist’s distant mother knows how to knit.
The hero or heroine never stands in front of the freezer wondering what to make for dinner or gets irritated with his/her partner for neglecting to pick up the dry cleaning. And there’s never a scene in which someone files a broken nail or struggles to pull on snug jeans.
My heart races (in a bad way) when I’m reading about a protagonist who spends all day and night battling assassins, running from evil masterminds, or trying to prevent an entire country from blowing up. What about lunch?
In thrillers or suspense novels, there are usually several tense days or a week of nonstop action in which nobody gets upset because the sweater they planned to wear is still in the wash. Nobody gets interrupted by a neighbor who complains that they didn’t bring their garbage cans inside in a timely manner. Nobody’s mother calls to say that her girlfriend Estelle’s nephew, the accountant, is moving to town and doesn’t know anyone.
It just doesn’t seem natural.
It bothers me that nobody spends time catching up with their email, visiting an elderly aunt, or checking in on an old friend who’s going through a divorce. Very few international sleuths call their aging grandparents, contribute to a good cause in memory of an uncle who died of emphysema, or fritters away two hours in a book store.
If I’m reading a suspense thriller, it’s usually because the author and I belong to the same writers’ group, or the author is married to someone I know. If there’s a meal in a suspense thriller, it’s fabulous, and everything is always “cooked to perfection.” I’m often disappointed when the protagonist is so busy trying to pinpoint the informant at the table, he doesn’t even notice what kind of pie is being served.
I care less about the trajectory of the bullet that kills the evil stock manipulator than I care about the kind of chocolate chip cookies the murderer’s daughter just baked. I’m more interested in how the protagonist’s love of doing puzzles leads to unravelling the sociopathic killer’s plans than in watching the killer succeed. And I’d rather hear about the neighbor’s masterly quilting than learn that one guy is willing to destroy his own family to gain power in the secret society that’s trying to take over the world.
And that, in a nutshell, is why I love cozy mysteries.
G.P. Gottlieb is the author of Charred: A Whipped and Sipped Mystery (D.X. Varos 2023) third in her culinary mystery series. She is host for New Books in Literature, a podcast channel on the New Books Network, and has interviewed over 170 authors. You can read more about her at www.gpgottlieb.com.