Cozies are traditional mysteries (think Miss Marple or Phryne Fisher). Key identifiers of a cozy are:
- an amateur sleuth solves the mystery
- the murder happens off the page
- no gore or profanity
- the focus is on whodunnit
- often part of a series with a hook
So what does this mean?
The amateur sleuth (usually a female) stumbles across a murder and is drawn into solving it. They may be the main murder suspect, it might be a friend or family member who is the suspect or victim or they may literally stumble across the body.
The sleuth usually has close friends who are side-kicks. They help to find clues and act as a sounding-board for the sleuth. While the side-kicks might help solve the mystery, the sleuth isn't dumb and is normally well-educated. There is usually one close family member or friend who is in law enforcement.
In addition to the clues that will help solve the crime there is always a sprinkling of red herrings to throw both the sleuth and the reader off track.
A cozy series has a hook (or underlying theme) that usually stems from the sleuth's pets, hobbies, careers or personal pursuits. The series may also have a continuing romance, usually involving the sleuth. In the same way there is no gore or profanity, the romance is usually sweet (ie no sex on the page). The series is usually light in tone (often humorous) and set in a small town with lots of quirky characters.
Agatha Christie's Miss Marple books are a classic example of cozy mysteries.