Hardboiled vs Cozies vs Everybody

Novelist James Reasoner is wondering when did the mystery field become so balkanized?

I read just about everything there was in the mystery field . . . and it seemed perfectly normal to me. Now you got your hardboiled readers laughing at cozies and your cozy readers sneering at the hardboiled stuff, and for all I know people who read cat mysteries can’t understand why anybody would want to read a dog mystery, and vice versa. I don’t understand it. Give me a good story and some reasonably interesting characters, and I’m fine
with it, no matter what the trappings might be.

You notice this a lot on many of the mystery lists (like DorothyL, etc.) and among the writing blogs.  What’s interesting to me is that the balkanization doesn’t just exist among mystery fans, but among mystery writers as well with, for example, the hardboiled writers all but sneering at authors who write cozies, as if they aren’t real writers because their heroes don’t fuck, or take a beating,  or go to a murder scenes and see the brain matter on the wall and the dead man who has shit himself in his last spasm of life.

Hardboiled detective books and police procedurals have no more literary
merit than any other books in the field because they are grittier.  I don’t much like cozies myself, but I certainly respect the writers who write them. It’s just as hard to write a cozy as it is to write a tough noir tale. Who knows, maybe it’s even harder.

A close cousin to balkanization are the insular attitudes of certain cliques of writers… scribes who love everything their group does, good or bad, and sneers at the work of outsiders. You aren’t "in" if you aren’t in their tight little group.  These smug back-slappers exist in all the different genres of mystery fiction and, if you go to conventions or hang out in discussions on -line,  you know exactly who they are and what writers are on their approved reading lists. 

I like to think I’m not in one of those insular groups and that I treat cozy, historical, hard-boiled, whodunit, and all other mystery writers with friendliess and respect, whether I am a fan of their particular genre or not.   

11 thoughts on “Hardboiled vs Cozies vs Everybody”

  1. I find it funny that you don’t like cozies because I consider DM a cozy series.
    I prefer cozies because I prefer the light to no sex, little language, and no graphic violence. I know there are great writers out there who write other things, but I wouldn’t enjoy them because I wouldn’t enjoy that stuff, so I avoid them. It’s simply a matter of personal taste.
    I’m a moderator in a mystery forum where I’m one of the few cozy readers, and definitely the only full time cozy reader. Every aspect of mystery gets discussed there. We respect other’s tastes and talk about what we think of what we’ve just read.
    Will be interesting to see how our discussion of a cozy goes next week. I’m leading it. We’ll see how I do. 🙂

  2. I think the DM books fall somewhere between a cozy and a police procedural. While there isn’t graphic sex in the DM novels, there *is* sex (THE SHOOTING SCRIPT, for example, revolves around not one, but two videos of people having sex). And I don’t shy away too much from describing corpses at the crime scene or during autopsy. But there’s no profanity in my DM books, no graphic descriptions of sex or violence, and at the heart of every novel is a straight-forward whodunit (or, in the case of THE SHOOTING SCRIPT, a howdunit).

  3. So does that make them soft-boiled?
    And I know there’s Steve, but it’s hard to have a police procedural series when the main character is not a police officer. Just MHO. 🙂
    We’re actually having this discussion over on that board today about soft boiled vs. cozy and hard boiled vs. noir vs. PI and what makes the difference in the genre titles. Since we’re trying to have our book discussions for a different genre each month, it’s a little more then an accidemic debate, but not much more then that.

  4. The cozy vs. hardboiled argument got so dull after about the sixth time I ran some version of it, I would no longer even print letters about it let alone opinion pieces.
    Thus Mystery Scene had several years of pure bliss.
    There’s only one way to say it–we read what gives us pleasure. Why would you read something that irritated or bored you? I agree with James. No sub-genre is inherently superior to another.
    I find many hardboiled novels to be ridiculously hardboiled. And God all the cliches of the form. Comic book violence and soap opera cornball–male weepies.
    You wanna read real hardboiled? Read Joyce Carol Oates’ THEM sometimes. Or Russell Banks. Or Denis Johnson. Or–yes–much of Stephen King. Real life hardboiled. Not updated snap brim fedora fantasies. Or just sit in a welfare office or a parole office for a day and you’ll see that most hardboiled writing is strictly for armchair gumshoes. Real life just ain’t like it is in most hardboiled novels.
    I look at what Jason Starr is doing. He’s Patricia Highsmith with a slightly broader sense of nasty humor. He tells real stories about our time. He’s doing within genre something I’ve never read before.
    I feel the same way about many cozies. Same story, same gags over and over and over. Terminal cutesy-poo. Terminal rose-colored glasses. I mean escape reading is fine by me–I still read Christie and Philip Macdonald and Margery Allingham becayse they’re fine writer–but I have to say…my God how much whipped cream can you consume in one lifetime?
    But as early Nancy Pickard and present-day Joan Hess demonstrate, modern cozies aren’t all pap. You can bring real life into them. It doesn’t have to be gory life. Nancy on abusive husbands can scare the hell out of you. Joan can break your heart with familial relationships gone awry. And their versions of their worlds are every bit as true as Jason Starr’s version of his world.
    Both sub-genres are filled with really good writers and really lazy writers. But if you can get past your particular snobbery, you’ll find that both have plenty to offer readers who like good writing and strong storytelling in any form. And that’s absolutely true.
    Arguing the inate superiority of one over the other is waste of time. –Ed Gorman

  5. I’m enjoying the novels of Carl Hiaasen. Brilliant work, light, funny, but he doesn’t shy away from foul language though. DM was a wholesome show to work on and the scripts were interesting. I read pile of them.

  6. That is what it boils down to: is it a good story? That’s why I liked “The Silent Partner”: it kept me engaged and sometimes amused, and at the same time admitted (I’m thinking of when the doc and the rest of his “cold case” crew were reviewing old murder cases) that some crimes never were solved, and never will be.
    What amuses me is to see Agatha Christie described as a cozy writer, when a) Miss Marple is a deeply cynical woman who believes everyone is capable of evil, b) she’s treated at times like “an old cat” who should be put in a home, and c) Christie had a sharp eye for the social landscape and sometimes regretted the changes sweeping through her country. Her plots may creak at times, but there were no flies on her intellect.

  7. I never would’ve thought that men would read “cozies” as opposed to police procedurals, etc. Before I read this, and especially the comments, my idea of a cozy were the books with the pun-ish titles by folks like Jill Churchill where married women who didn’t really have time what with families to take care of solved murder mysteries.


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