Browsing through the mystery and crime fiction genre, trying to identify the best slot for my Esme Quentin mysteries, I came to the conclusion that there's a case to be made for a new sub-category.
On the one hand we've got hard-boiled, gritty and noir, and at the opposite end of the spectrum we've got cozy. But is that enough?
OK, so there's suspense and psychological, there's murder-mystery and police procedural, there's forensic and historical crime, there's legal thriller and spy. But I think what I have a problem with, is the cozy category. Does that give us enough information? Are we associating it too closely with cosy - comfortable or snug - and missing a trick?
CozyThe word cozy is, I presume, a corruption of cozen, meaning to cheat, defraud; beguile; act deceitfully. In a Crime Fiction context, Wikipedia defines cozy as, "a sub-genre of detective fiction in which profanity, sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously."
Interestingly, listed on the line above cozen in my 1964 edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary is the verb, to coze, (a new one on me) meaning to (have a) chat! Is it a coincidence, I wonder, that the marrying of these two concepts - coze, a chat, and cosy, a covering to retain heat in teapot - evokes the very British pastime of sharing a cuppa and a natter on a sofa!
Robert GoddardThis sub-genre question is one on which I've pondered in respect of one of my favourite authors, Robert Goddard. Referred to as "the master of the double twist", his books are billed as thrillers but they're essentially intricate webs of intrigue, bluffs and double bluffs. Because the unravelling of the mystery is where the focus lies, any violence is low-key or, it might be argued, downplayed.
But I doubt anyone, least of all his publishers, would label his novels as cozy.
Robert Goddard was a relative unknown when his early books came out. Fortunately, his publisher kept the faith (not sure that would happen today!) and now he's highly successful. I've often wondered whether having no identifiable sub-genre worked against him. Had he written police procedurals, for example, would he have found his thousands of fans earlier? Even now, his status as a thriller author gives little guidance as to the type of novel he writes.
Get SMARTSo, back to the beginning of this post. Is it time to invent a new category (or perhaps several)? And if so, what could they be? An acronym might be the answer.
NEAT might help identify a novel without violence, blood and gore, perhaps, standing for No Excessive Aggression Tale. Or how about CLEVA (pronounced "clever") - Content Lacking Excessive Violence or Aggression? Or maybe COOL? Contains Only Obligatory L... Mmm. I'll get back to you on that one.
But then I realised that each of these was negative - a declaration of what was NOT contained in the book. How much better to champion what was?
So, after chewing my way through my Roget's Thesaurus, I hope the following holds more promise.
Who wouldn't want to read a SMART thriller, denoting that inside the pages lurks a tale of Secrets, Mystery And a Revealing Twist?
What d'you think? Perhaps you've got some ideas of your own?
So, here's the challenge. Let's come up with something so brilliant that the crime fiction fraternity, readers and writers both, can't wait to adopt it.
I look forward to hearing your feedback and any suggestions you have of your own!