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It is only in the last couple of years that I have fallen in love with cozy mysteries, which is in itself a mystery to me because there’s very little I love more than an episodic story. When I first encountered this subgenre, I texted a fellow bookish friend with an enthusiastic “OMG THESE ARE SO FUN HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF COZY MYSTERIES??” To which she replied, “Oh, honey. Where have you BEEN? Welcome!”, and then promptly provided me a list of where to start. I have great friends.
In cozies, the mystery (most often a murder) happens off the page, the location is often remote or secluded, the plot usually revolves around some kind of small business like a yarn store, a bakery, or a bookstore; and — most importantly for this article — the sleuth protagonist is an amateur who is intuitive and resourceful and most often identifies as female. This last guideline makes sense given that the subgenre caters broadly to women, and also has mostly female authors.
Originally I was looking for the best amateur sleuths in cozies, until I realized that “amateur” refers to almost every sleuth in Cozyland. So instead, I’ve collected a list of ten sleuths whose adventures I deeply enjoy or look forward to trying out this year.
Hot & Sour Suspects by Vivien Chien
Series: Noodle Shop Mysteries
Lana Lee returned to Cleveland after a bad break up and a dramatic “f*** you I quit.” at her job. She’s been back at her family’s restaurant, the Ho-Lee Noodle House, for 8 books now. In the newest volume in the series, Lana agrees to host a speed dating event at Ho-Lee Noodle House, but no one expects one of the speed daters to turn up dead.
Why Lana is here: I love a story about an independent woman making good on her ability to take charge of her life.
A Killer Sundae by Abby Collette
Series: Ice Cream Parlor Mysteries
In the third book in the Ice Cream Parlor Mystery series, Bronwyn Crewse has been implicated in the poisoning of a former Chagrin Falls Harvest Time Festival Queen. Can she clear her name before winter sets in?
Why Bronwyn is here: who doesn’t love an ice cream mystery? Plus, representation matters everywhere. More protagonists of color in mystery novels!
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Homicide and Halo-Halo by Mia P. Manansala
Series: Tía Rosie’s Kitchen Mysteries
In the first, Lila Macapagal returned to her own small hometown after a bad break up (there’s a theme here) and started working at her family restaurant, feeding delicious Filipino food to the citizens of Shady Palms. Her dream of opening a cafe is now on hold in the second volume, due to needing to solve the murder of the head judge of the Miss Teen Shady Palms beauty pageant. After all, as a former winner herself, she could be next!
Why Lila is great: she’s plucky and interesting, and her descriptions of Filipino food make me so very hungry.
The Cure for What Ales You by Ellie Alexander
Series: Sloan Krause Mysteries
It’s finally spring in Leavenworth, Washington, in the 5th installment of Ellie Alexander’s mystery series. She and her partner are putting the finishing touches on their newest ale, but when someone from Sloan’s past is implicated in the murder of a local housekeeper, it’s time to put down the brewing gear and get on the case.
Why Sloan is here: A woman who loves beer and solves murders is always going to be someone I want to talk to.
Iced in Paradise by Naomi Hirahara
Series: Lelani Santiago Hawai’i Mysteries
In the first volume of Hirahara’s newest series, Leilani is back on Kau’ai to help keep her family’s shaved ice shack running. On the way to work she stumbles on the body of a pro surfer who was being coached by her estranged father, and suddenly she must add “solve a murder” to the list of things she needs to keep in balance.
Why Leilani is here: Naomi Hirahara’s cozies are all delightful and I am excited to see where Leilani’s story takes her.
Cookies and Clairvoyance by Bailey Cates
Series: The Magical Mystery Bakery
Katie Lightfoot is once again baking up magically delicious treats in the 8th volume of Bailey Cates’s series. Hedgewitchery and baking with a side of solving crimes…what could be better?
Why Katie is here: I am personally very partial to the magical cozy mystery sub-sub genre. Especially when it involves baked goods.
The House on Tradd Street by Karen White
Series: The House on Tradd Street
This completed 7-book series kicks off with The House on Tradd Street. Melanie Middleton is a realtor known for her way with old houses, even though she hates them. When she suddenly inherits one, the reasons quickly become clear: there’s a ghost on the property, and it doesn’t like her.
Why Melanie is here: we are kindred spirits (hah). She’s flawed and funny and over the course of the series actually becomes a better person, which I appreciate.
Steeped in Suspicion by Eryn Scott
Series: Pebble Cove Teahouse Mysteries
Rosemary Woodmere just inherited a Victorian teahouse from her estranged grandmother — and it comes complete with a ghost from the 1920s. Her previous profession as a librarian hasn’t quite prepared her to solve her grandmother’s murder, but what else can she do?
Why Rosemary is here: paranormal cozies! Tea! Ghosts from the 1920s! Love it.
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun
Series: The Cat Who…
Jim Qwilleran is making his way back into reporting as the feature writer for The Daily Fluxion. His landlord has cats, and when Koko the Siamese insists on guiding him to the back of the property, Jim finds a body.
Why Jim is here: The Cat Who… series is a classic of the cozy mystery genre. This is the first book, published in 1966; the whole series runs to 29 volumes with the last one published in 2007.
Them Bones by Carolyn Haines
Series: Sara Booth Delaney Mysteries
Sara Booth Delaney is unemployed, broke, over thirty, and just inherited her family’s Southern mansion — complete with the ghost of her great-great-grandmother’s Black nanny, who has lost none of her sass in the afterlife. When she is hired to solve an old local murder, things quickly spin out of control. Sarah Booth is about to discover that digging into the past can have dire consequences in the present.
Note: The Sara Booth Delaney series was first published in 1999 and is set in rural Mississippi. The 24th volume, Lady of Bones, was recently published, with Bones of Holly slated for later in 2022. I’ve enjoyed this series on audio from my local library; however, the first few books contain some questionable opinions about Mississippi history. I have listened through book 10, published in 2010 and am happy to report that as the series progresses, Sara Booth’s beliefs reflect changes in viewpoint over the early 2000s. I can’t speak for the other 15 books I have yet to listen to, but I am hopeful that Sara Booth — and by proxy, her author — have continued to reframe their perspectives.
Why Sara Booth is here: I’ve enjoyed getting to know her over the course of the first 10 books. I also appreciate that she doesn’t shy away from being a person who is growing and learning and navigating the world. She also ::whispers:: has sex (although not on the page), which is unusual for cozies but makes me like her all the more.
If you’re interested in even more cozy mystery series, Rioter Carole Bell wrote this article about increasing diversity in cozies back in August, and that same month, also-Rioter CJ Connor helpfully listed 26 of the Best Cozy Mystery Series.
I also personally recommend following Stephanie over at Bookfrolic.com. She puts out a monthly list of new cozies that often tops 100 books. I am not affiliated with her in any way; I simply appreciate the dedication she has to this delightful genre.