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Cozy vs. Gritty

The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment

The difference between cozy and gritty mysteries is immense. Would you rather snuggle with a teddy bear or a cholla cactus? Yes, that extreme. Cozy mysteries coax you into the story with a comfy chair, soft blanket and a steaming mug of hot chocolate. The gritty mystery grabs you and won't let go, even when you try to put it down and run. Both are layered in degrees, building to their conclusion. I suppose it depends on what kinds of books you enjoy the most, whether you can be satisfied with a soft ending or rather like the ones that give you nightmares.

In Nellie H. Steele's "Ghost, Lore and House by the Shore'' the reader is given an extra gentle cozy ghost story that involves pirates, treasure and death over a decade ago. The detail Steele goes into about the benign process of living, moving into a new house, unpacking boxes, eating take out, is like living real life. Most actions of the mother daughter characters, Lily and Cassie, are rather normal and sometimes close to boring, with a few strange lights and noises that appear to be ghostly. There is sadness to the story, but no blood or guts. In the end, all is well, as a cozy mystery should be. This is a safe read.

If it is something scarier you are looking for, give "How to Sell a Haunted House" a try. Written by Grady Hendrix, Louise and her brother Mark must face the sudden loss of their parent's death in a car accident and the challenge to deal with a houseful of belongings before the house can be sold. Is the house haunted? The siblings uncover secrets buried for generations, secrets that seem to be holding the house hostage. Or is their mother's puppet collection doing the hostage holding? This is a medium gauged mystery with some spooky and creepy actions that make your hair stand on end a bit. Especially if you have a fear of puppets!

Now I come to the gritty mystery, which I must confess was much harder to deal with than any creepy old house or malicious puppets. "Those Across the River" by Christopher Buehlman deals in a whole different realm. In the first two reviews we have a haunted house that is bought, and a haunted house to be sold. But what about a haunted estate that demands its own payment? The history of this southern plantation is not sitting well.

In "Those Across the River" Buehlman introduces an academic, Frank Nichols, and his wife to be Eudora. It is sometime during the 1920s. Frank has gone to war in Europe and come back both physically and emotionally scarred. When he inherits a house from his mother's sister, her note delivered by the lawyer tells him to sell the house immediately and not to leave Chicago to come south to live in it. Of course, he doesn't listen.

The house is not much, found in a hot and sweltering southern town whose community has been ground down from the heat, poverty and a mystery that no one will talk about. It is odd that they dress up two healthy pigs with wreaths of flowers and deliver them at the full moon every month to the shore across the river. And that the woods on either side of the river feel oppressive and non-approachable.

Frank is aware of family history and knows that his great grandfather had owned the plantation across that river. And he owned slaves. Slaves that he tortured for sport. And the slaves killed him. But it seems it didn't end there. For three quarters of the book, the author sparingly but persistently gives the readers clues, in a lazy kind of southern way. But as the pages are turned in the last of the book, it becomes lightning clear that this book has held a horrific unexpected ending, over and over and over to the last page. I must admit I read on by pure grit myself so I could finish my review. I was not happy.

I must also admit to brilliant writing on the part of Buehlman. I did not like where he took me, but he did it well. Because it is written not as fantasy at all, but all too real. This review comes with a warning. Read this book and be prepared to figuratively hug the barbed cholla cactus. It is not at all cozy or even just scary. The story grinds deep under the skin.

As this is my "Halloween" review of the year, I felt I should at least try to give my readers a well rounded choice of scary stories. I must admit I prefer happy endings, but realize many readers like more meat with their mysteries. Well, the last one has meat, literally. I will now happily go reading into the next seasonal holidays, and leave the macabre behind. Sweet dreams?

Good Books.

Good reading.

*Midge Lyn'dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the reviews are real and sincere.