Till death do us part, with kitchen shears. What drives a family man to kill his wife? This question haunts Sarah James — The Fog Ladies: Family Matters (A San Francisco Cozy Murder Mystery) by @SMcCormickBooksTweet
Cozy Tropes I Love
by Susan McCormick
Cozy murder mysteries would not be cozies if it weren’t for their tropes. Call them cliches, but a cozy doesn’t feel cozy without tea and baked goods or a cat or a dog or a quirky side character or the misjudged death or a bit of romance or the police officer who helps or discourages the amateur sleuth. So, let’s talk tropes.
A very common cozy trope is the misjudged death, when the amateur sleuth figures out the death is not what it seems, or that there is a death at all, and the police don’t believe her. With autopsies and cameras everywhere, this is a little hard to pull off, but is beautifully demonstrated in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. A photographer with a broken leg idly spies on his neighbors across the courtyard. He sees the makings of a murder, his policeman buddy does not believe him, and he ends up pushed out the window by the murderer, breaking his other leg.
In my first cozy mystery, The Fog Ladies, old ladies start to die in an elegant apartment building in San Francisco. Though autopsies are performed, the medical examiner is happy to ascribe these deaths to the follies of old age, climbing on a stool and falling off, and a stroke leading to drowning in the bathtub. The Fog Ladies, spunky older ladies themselves, know the deaths are not natural, and pull along a young, tired medical intern in their quest to catch the killer.
A second common cozy trope is food. So many stories involve food in some way. The protagonist might own a tea shop or a bakery or a catering service or a café. The protagonist may have cooking as a hobby or love chocolate or be addicted to donuts. Amazon has an entire category devoted to these: culinary cozy mysteries.
In The Fog Ladies, main character Frances Noonan loves to cook, and every scene she is in features food, dinner she cooks for the overworked young doctor, banana bread for the Fog Ladies, egg custard for the policeman. Her molasses cookies become a source of sadness in The Fog Ladies: Family Matters.
Oh, how she missed Bill. His smell, of wintergreen breath mints and coffee, his smile, showing teeth that got more crooked as he grew older, his solidness that softened over the years with all her baked goods, her molasses cookies being his all-time favorite. The Fog Ladies ate her cookies now. Though she hadn’t made the molasses ones since Bill died.
Cozies are almost always inhabited by quirky side characters who add lighthearted humor and reader enjoyment. Let’s face it. Cozies are just plain fun. Who doesn’t love crazy situations and misadventures? Think of most of the supporting characters in Murder, She Wrote. The Fog Ladies are each unique and some are funny, with eighty-year-old Enid Carmichael stealing the show in The Fog Ladies when she steals her neighbors’ newspaper coupons for free grande lattes at Starbucks to feed her new addiction. In The Fog Ladies: Family Matters, she spies from her apartment’s perch over the building’s front door, searching for murderers and certain they can’t see her. She checked.
Another favorite cozy trope is the cat or dog. Almost every cozy has one. Even Columbo had a dog, a Basset Hound named “Dog.” Some cozies even feature the cat or dog as an integral part of the main sleuthing team, and again Amazon devotes a separate category to cozy animal mysteries. I was happy to put an assortment of animals in my Fog Ladies books. Frances Noonan has an old cat she took in soon after her husband died. Enid Carmichael has a high-strung, yippy Bichon Frise who bites ankles and creates chaos and trouble, yet ultimately saves the day in Book 1. My own dog, Albert, a gigantic, fluffy Newfoundland, makes a short, sedate, and dignified appearance in Book 2, and in the next book his role will grow, with a Newfoundland front and center in the action. A Newfoundland is a little large for your typical cozy, but you get the idea. Animals in general are large in cozies.
Tropes in cozy murder mysteries are familiar and fun. These are a few of my favorites. How about you?
Till death do us part, with kitchen shears. What drives a family man to kill his wife? This question haunts Sarah James, a medical resident who meets the unhappy family at a resort near Big Sur. She witnesses how ugly a marriage can be. But murder?
Sarah and the spunky Fog Ladies—elderly neighbors from her San Francisco apartment building—set out to discover the truth. Their probing finds the threat is perilously close to home, endangering another troubled family struggling to survive.
Susan McCormick is a writer and doctor who lives in Seattle. She graduated from Smith College and George Washington University School of Medicine, with additional medical training in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, where she lived in an elegant apartment building much like the one in the book. Susan served as a doctor in the U.S. Army for nine years before moving to the Pacific Northwest and civilian practice as a gastroenterologist. In addition to the Fog Ladies series, she also wrote Granny Can’t Remember Me, a lighthearted picture book about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and The Antidote, a timely middle grade medical fantasy released May 2021. She lives in Seattle with her husband and two sons. She loves giant dogs and has loved an English Mastiff, Earl, and two Newfoundlands, Edward and Albert.
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