On Shaking Things Up in a Cozy Series
By Katherine Bolger Hyde
They call it Cabot Cove Syndrome: the unrealistic percentage of murders happening in a fictional small town. Since most cozy mystery series are set in small towns, and since a cozy mystery more or less requires at least one dead body, it’s pretty much unavoidable, and readers have collectively agreed to suspend their disbelief. But sometimes the concentration of corpses can get to be t too much—for readers and writers alike.
Writers have found various ways to deal with the syndrome. Mystery novelist Jessica Fletcher—central character of Murder, She Wrote, from which the syndrome got its name—ended up traveling so much one had to wonder when she got any writing done. Most of Miss Marple’s cases cropped up when she was away from home, or else she got wind of a suspicious death and made up an excuse to visit someone in the village where it happened.
It’s a little easier for series that have a cozy vibe although the sleuth is a professional—the Miss Silver mysteries by Patricia Wentworth, for example, or the long-running Midsomer Murders. Private detective Miss Silver was called to cases all over England, mostly in villages. The fictional Midsomer County does have an awfully high murder rate for a mostly rural county, but at least Barnaby has a legitimate professional reason to travel among the many colorful villages contained within its borders.
In the case of my own series, Crime with the Classics, after three books in which five murders took place, not only in the same small town on the Oregon coast, but in my heroine’s own home, I felt readers would be ready for a break. (I certainly was!) Fortunately, I had a great excuse ready to hand for my sleuth to leave home. Emily Cavanaugh is a literature professor, not-quite-officially retired from a college in Portland, Oregon. So what could be more natural in the fourth book, Death with Dostoevsky, than for her to go back to her old home and spend a few weeks researching her long-planned book in the college library?
Changing locations is not the only way to shake things up. Series characters can come and go as well. When Emily moves back to Portland temporarily, she leaves behind her fiancé and crime-solving partner, Lieutenant Sheriff Luke Richards. So when murder inevitably follows her to campus, she has to find someone in the Portland police force who will put up with her amateur sleuthing. Emily’s usual companions, housekeeper Katie and her baby daughter Lizzie, are back home at Windy Corner as well, so we see a lot more of Emily’s college connections instead.
Every wandering sleuth has to touch base from time to time. Book five will see Emily back at Windy Corner, but in book six she and Luke will be taking off on their long-awaited honeymoon—where, of course, murder will follow them. After that—who knows? The sleepy coastal town of Stony Beach may go on to become the murder capital of the West Coast.
Katherine Bolger Hyde is the author of the Crime with the Classics series, including Arsenic with Austen, Bloodstains with Brontë, Cyanide with Christie, and Death with Dostoevsky. Katherine lives in the redwood country of the California central coast, where she shares a home with her husband and two obstreperous cats. When not reading, writing, or editing for her day job, she can generally be found knitting while watching British mystery series or singing in the choir at St. Lawrence Orthodox Church.
Amazon buy link: Death with Dostoevsky
Visit her at kbhyde.com or at “Katherine Bolger Hyde, writer” on Facebook.