It starts small
The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment
January 4, 2020
A cozy mystery is crime fiction where sex and violence are downplayed with humor and lightheartedness. The story can start with something minor, beginning with a series of small events, such as is found in a short story. I came upon one of these "shorts" recently that I thought would fit the perfect setting for a cozy murder...
The Poinsettia Fiasco
The poinsettia didn't seem to suffer at all. But it was the harbinger of catastrophe. It started with Uncle Joe bringing his sister a lovely poinsettia plant on the second Sunday of December. She was ecstatic and babied the plant daily with Christmas carols and the perfect spot, not too sunny, not too shady. And the watering. I didn't know a poinsettia could drink so much.
The third week of December was baking week. Aunt Sarah made a production line in her kitchen and by the end of this week, the bounty of her efforts (and ours, as she roped in anyone who was near the kitchen to help) was overbrimming with cookies, fudge, pies and cakes, covered with plastic wrap and festive bows, ready for church potlucks, Christmas parties, neighbors, friends and family. We all profited from her heroic efforts with heavenly thankfulness. Everything was that good.
But the pride of her baking was a cake she made every year for the parish priest. He had a considerable liking to take a nip here and there (and here again) of sherry. The first time Aunt Sarah made him her sherry bundt cake, he declared she should be canonized a saint. (I know, complete heresy, but a great family joke.) Not surprisingly, Aunt Sarah has made this priest a sherry cake every year since.
This year she was in a hurry to get to a holiday bizarre so gave us nephews the charge to let it cool, then wrap it up carefully. Of course, we were busy (video games) and forgot. By the time we got hungry enough to go in search of pizza rolls from the freezer, the cake had been sitting there for a good two hours cooling. And it was not alone.
It seems a family (or legion) of gnats had found they had a fondness for that fragrant cake. We found the cake covered with the little buggers. Our pizza rolls cooled, forgotten in the microwave while one of the older cousins had the great idea to use tweezers to pick them off. "She will never know!" he exclaimed. It took awhile to pluck a legion of gnats off a warm cake that had cooled.
When perfectly bug free, we wrapped up the sherry cake in plastic and put on a big red bow for good measure. Cousin Jake was right. No one would ever know!
It was tradition that Aunt Sarah delivered the sherry cake with a flourish to the priest's table at the potluck dinner on the Sunday before Christmas. He would ceremoniously unwrap the cake and have a taste. This year was no different.
The priest worked the plastic wrap off the cake with a flourish, while a cloud of gnats flew up and around his head and made their way into the faces of many parishioners who unfortunately had their mouths open in surprise. Aunt Sarah was mortified. The priest screamed like a girl. People jumped up and chairs crashed to the floor. One table collapsed as people in the back panicked and started running for the door. Later they would say they couldn't tell what was happening up front. But the commotion sent them running for their lives.
Aunt Sarah didn't suspect us at all. She wondered how she could have cooked them into the cake without the heat killing them. We almost got away with it.
If this was a cozy mystery, the priest would then die mysteriously hours after the potluck. The culprits of the cake caper would be discovered and traced back to Aunt Sarah's brother and the poinsettia. All would become suspects until the real reason for the crime was discovered, with the innocent going free while the culprit was cornered and caught. It is a formula that readers find familiar and comfortable. The book industry and authors are able to profit by providing similar stories over and over. Many readers want to relax in the mystery, without too many scary or unpredictable events, or develop deep emotional ties making the book too hard to put down.
There are lots of cozy murder mysteries out there. Ones that even include food like the sherry cake in the story above. Check out "Assaulted Caramel" by Amanda Flower, "Grilled for Murder" by Maddie Day and "Toasting Up Trouble" by Linda Wiken. Light reading for busy days.
By the way, most picture books are cozy by nature with their compact format... a total story illustrated in 32 pages or less. Most beloved with good "eats" are "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle, "Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Seuss and "Thundercake" by Patricia Polacco. Only a little stress involved. And no murders, cozy or otherwise!
*Midge Lyn'dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the reviews are real and sincere.