Harsh VS. Cozy in Writing by Mike Baron

HARSH VS. COZY

 

I like crime fiction that’s hard as nails with grim and often violent depictions of life along the seams. I admire Robert Crais, Andrew Klavan, Stephen Hunter, Jim Thompson, James M. Cain and William Lindsay Gresham. I love Chandler and Hammett. But there is another type of crime fiction: the “Cozies,” perpetrated primarily by the British, in which all the violence occurs off page and the denouement takes place in an oak-paneled drawing room when a pompous epicure, be it Nero Wolfe or Hercule Poirot, reveals the villain over tea and crumpets.

Nothing wrong with Cozies. I have read every Rex Stout and some Agatha Christie. It’s just that my taste runs toward the hard and gritty. Sherlock Holmes is responsible for the bull market in Cozies, although he himself was never cozy. Conan Doyle wrote for the Victorian age when showing severed limbs or thrusting organs simply wasn’t done. Contemporary accounts of Jack the Ripper employ hilarious euphemisms to describe what was once considered indescribable. (Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper achieved apotheosis in James Hill’s 1965 movie, A Study In Terror.)

An odd little subset to Cozies are mysteries solved by dogs and cats. One need only look at the oeuvre of Rita Mae Brown whose best-selling titles include Tail Gate, Nine Lives To Die, The Litter of the Law, and The Big Cat Nap, all yclept a “Mrs. Murphy Mystery.” There are Cozies featuring dogs such as Jane Arnold’s Let Sleeping Dogs Lie Mary Hiker’s Play Fetch: An Avery Barks Dog Mystery, C.A. Newsome’s A Shot in the Bark: A Dog Park Mystery, and Neil S. Plakcy’s Dog Have Mercy: A Golden Retriever Mystery. Can mysteries starring ocelots, coati mundis and peacocks be far behind? I love my dogs and sometimes write about them, but they don’t solve mysteries. There’s nothing wrong with cats solving murders if that’s your thing.

Every crime writer is fascinated by human darkness. The challenge is to present it in a way that isn’t torture porn. Ann Rule, Aphrodite Jones, and Jack Olsen never stint on their description of the crimes. To do so would rob the reader of their morbid fascination, which is one of the reasons we read true crime. All crime writers try to shine a light on the darkest corners of the human soul, the better to understand ourselves.

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