Our prolonged Indian Summer is over at last. It’s six o’clock; I’ve just come in from taking the dog for a walk around the block and my nose feels like it has frozen and may well snap off as it thaws. I was in Montreal in early spring many years ago; it was so cold that I did promise myself not to complain about our winters ever again. Well, I’m not complaining – I’m just noticing. At least we have a warm house. At least we have a house.
There’s something about wintry weather that makes me long for a good cosy, so that’s what I’ve been reading this past week. You may or may not know that the cosy is a sub-genre of crime fiction. If you think of Miss Marple, you’ll get the idea. Amateur sleuth, usually a woman, and the setting that works best is a small town or village or community. There are no mean streets, no jaded PI’s or alcoholic detectives, minimal sex and usually no graphic violence, there is still plenty of death.
I’ve just been reading the Sarah Kelling mysteries by Charlotte McLeod. A quick stock-take of modus operandi gives us toxic mushrooms, poisoned cocktails, paint stripper, the deliberate withholding of heart medication, bludgeoning with blunt instrument (in one, it was a built-up shoe) or a sharp instrument ( an axe), car brakes that have been tampered with, a quick shove in the back which lands the victim under a train or over a balcony…
Motives are the usual – sex and money and reputation. None of which is very cosy at all, really.
The other point of difference with a cosy is that it can be humourous. Even laugh- out- loud funny.
The Sarah Kelling books are stuffed with gorgeously eccentric characters. Absurd Boston blue-bloods abound. Some of them are dotty and delightful – like Uncle Jem, an elderly reprobate who belongs to the Order of the Convivial Codfish. And some of them are snobbish and murderous, like Sarah’s blind and deaf mother-in-law.
You can have a spot of romance, too, and it doesn’t have to be tragic. Handsome art expert and investigator Max Bittersohn falls for the widowed Sarah and assists her to solve various thefts and murders; it’s not all smooth sailing, however – in The Bilbao Looking Glass, the anti-Semitism of the yacht club crowd comes to an ugly head as they decide she can’t possibly marry a Jew. Elderly cousins and uncles also find love; my favourite courtship is that of twitcher Cousin Brooks and the statuesque sixty-ish beauty Mrs Theonia Sorpende.
Charlotte Macleod also wrote as Ailsa Craig.