The first book in the Maggie McDonald Mystery series by Mary Feliz, Address to Die For, landed in my Kindle via a search for “cozy mystery” on the DC Public Library catalog. I was hoping to find a new series for my pandemic read-fest, and the Maggie McDonald books were well reviewed on both Goodreads and Amazon.
The description sounded promisingly cozy, too: Maggie McDonald and her family move into a century-old house they recently inherited, where there’s an old barn out back, plenty of room for her two boys and pup to roam, and… a dead body in the basement. With the help of the local police and a few new friends, Maggie sets off to solve the mystery.
Add in the cute dog on the front cover, and I was ready to wrap myself in my warmest blanket, heat up some herbal tea, and dig into this new-to-me cozy mystery series. But sadly, this book was definitely not my kind of cozy.
That’s not to say it’s a bad book. The characters are fairly well rounded, the setting (small town Silicon Valley) is unique, at least to this East Coaster, and the author paints beautiful pictures packed with enough detail to really root the reader in place.
But a grand old house and the occasional ginger cookie baked by a cheerful old lady do not, on their own, a cozy mystery make. While cozy is of course in the eye knitted blanket / warm beverage / fuzzy friend curled up in the lap of the beholder, my favorite cozy mysteries meet most of the following criteria:
- A fun, often punny, title
- An age-diverse cast that isn’t all white wealthy heteronorms
- A well-rounded main character (usually a woman)
- A hobby or hobby-adjacent profession that gives the characters a non-murder, non-romance subject to discuss and bond over
- A setting that is loved by the cast, even if begrudgingly
- Good food
- Great pets
- And a quick murder of a flat character that doesn’t require the reader to ponder actual grief or the depravities of real life
While Address to Die For meets a few of those criteria, it loses points for its decidedly uncozy elements, like animal mutilation, child abuse, and mental health issues, all of which serve solely to drive the plot and none of which are handled with the sensitivity and nuance that such serious matters demand.
And there’s the crux of the cozy: It’s a tricky thing, to create a murder mystery that engages the reader but does not pierce the cozy bubble. My favorite cozy writers, like Vivien Chien, do this by keeping the reader focused on solving the puzzle, on the capable characters, on friendship, on the loving portrayals of place and space, and on all of the delicious food that everyone eats while trying to solve the mystery (or trying to forget all about it).
So on a cozy mystery scale of zero to Vivien Chien’s Noodle Shop Mysteries, Address to Die For gets a two, and my hunt continues for my next favorite cozy series. If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments!