Don’t Call Me Cosy!
On May 19th I’ll be heading to Bristol for the annual Crimefest, where one of the panels should get a bit fighty; it’s about the pros and cons of the so-called ‘Cosy’, a relatively new sub-genre of mystery fiction which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crimes take place in a small, socially intimate community.
The term was first coined in the late 20th century when various writers produced work in an attempt to re-create Gold Age crime fiction. The sleuths are usually amateurs, there’s no swearing and the themes avoid anything controversial, political or religious. They’re usually called something like ‘Dorothy Sultana and the Punctured Teabag’.
I hate them.
Mainly because every once in a while, someone who has clearly never read more than a few sentences from one of my books says I write them. I’ve persistently written about class, politics, racism, ageism and other hot-button topics in my non-Bryant & May novels, but because my crime fiction also uses humour, the ‘cosy’ accusation crops up.
In ‘Psychoville’ and ‘The Sand Men’, the political comment is overt (enough to get interviews censored) and although the Bryant & May books have lunatic plots there’s usually a serious point to be made in them. ‘The Burning Man’ was set again the banking riots. ‘Strange Tide’ starts with a boatful of Libyan refugees heading for Lampedusa. The books take serious lessons I’ve learned in London and uses them as springboards for mysteries, that’s all.
But I look at the book above and want to throw up, even though I’m sure many readers find it perfectly charming. The joke is, of course, that in my own way I’m also doing following ‘cosy’ rules, making the Peculiar Crimes Unit a world of its own. Regular police departments have been done to death, so I needed to write about a different kind of place, and found it after I talked to my father about his scientific unit, where the average age was 21 and methods were wildly experimental.
My unit was based on his reality, which gave me something to work with. His friends and colleagues were very unusual people, often socially awkward, lost in abstract thought. Many were unable to deal with the real world. The difference is in the friction created by the two worlds rubbing together. That’s when the sparks fly, which is why I balance the world of the PCU with true events occurring outside it.
Cosy? You be the judge.
PS The new painting at the top is ‘The Burning Man’ by Keith Page, clearly based on images from the bonfire societies of Lewes.