I’ve bought quite a few houses in my time (nine to be exact), and I’ve heard the three most important things to consider when buying a house are location, location, location. Why? Because you can easily change just about everything else about a house, but you can’t change the location. Well, not easily. So, what does buying real estate have to do with writing a cozy mystery? In my opinion, EVERYTHING. Why? Because, just like in real estate, location is a key component in a mystery, especially a cozy mystery.
The very name, “cozy mystery” conjures up different scenes for each person. For some, this might be a cabin tucked away in the mountains. Others may get a picture of a small New England town with fishing boats, diners selling lobster rolls, antique shops, and a lighthouse converted into a library. When I think cozy, I think of a quaint town with handmade furniture, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, unique craft stores, a bakery with lots of delicious goodies in the window, and a bookstore with comfy chairs, a fireplace, and a sizeable mystery section. Cozy mysteries aren’t set in cookie cutter towns overflowing in big box stores, but lacking in personality and charm. No. A COZY mystery’s location does more than provide a geographic location to ground the reader. It sets the mood for the book and instills things in the reader’s mind that aren’t always on the page. Okay, I can feel your skepticism. How can the location or setting of a book do all of that, you ask? Let’s look at a couple of cozy mysteries.
First, let’s look at a cozy set in the South. Kate Young’s, Southern Sass and Killer Cravings, A Marygene Brown Mystery. The book’s location, on Peach Cove Island off the Georgia coast, creates a southern vibe that radiates from the pages. Without the author stating that the locals have a southern drawl, readers will hear that drawl based on the phrasing. In Debra H. Goldstein’s Sarah Blair Mysteries, which are set in Birmingham, Alabama, you know that each, ‘Bless your heart,’ is spoken with sarcasm. Why? Because, the book’s location is set in the South. If you’re from the South, you know. If you’re not. . .ask a Southerner.
Cozy mysteries set in New England like Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake Mystery series or Shari Randall’s Lobster Shack Mysteries, create a mental picture of the place and the people. Even without a written description, readers familiar with the area, and even those who have only watched Murder, She Wrote on television, will conjure up images of the beautiful New England coast with seagulls flying overhead, fishing boats and lobster buoys bobbing in the water, and quaint shops with saltwater taffy. The locals’ dialect, their passions, and their interests practically leap off the pages when the setting is right.
Location was a key factor when I chose to set my Mystery Bookshop Mystery series in Southwestern Michigan. The series is set in the fictional town of North Harbor, Michigan. Southwestern Michigan isn’t as popular a setting for cozy mysteries as New England. However, readers familiar with the area easily recognized specific elements of Lake Michigan’s coastline, lighthouses, and often turbulent weather. Storms, tornadoes, and lake effect snow are normal for the region, and residents know how to “hunker down” and stay safe through the harshest weather Mother Nature throws at them. In the eighth book in the series, a storm comes through and damages the local library. Samantha Washington’s bookstore doesn’t sustain any damage, and she offers to host one of the library’s book clubs. That’s when her troubles begin. I would argue that the plotline in Bookclubbed to Death works because of the book’s location. Just as a hurricane could work as a great starting point for a book set in New Orleans, or an earthquake in California. Why? Because location really does matter.
About the Author
Valerie (V. M.) Burns is an Agatha, Anthony, and Edgar Award-finalist. She is the author of the Mystery Bookshop, Dog Club, RJ Franklin, and Baker Street Mystery series. Valerie is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Crime Writers of Color. She is also an adjunct professor in the Writing Popular Fiction Program at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA. Born and raised in northwestern Indiana, Valerie now lives in Northern Georgia with her two poodles. Connect with Valerie at .
Bookclubbed to Death
by V. M. Burns
When the bookshop she owns becomes a crime scene, mystery writer Samantha Washington discovers there is such a thing as bad publicity . . .
After the local library in North Harbor, Michigan, is flooded in a storm, Sam offers her bookstore as a new venue for the Mystery Mavens Book Club. Unfortunately, she immediately runs afoul of the club leader, Delia Marshall, a book reviewer who can make or break careers—something Sam can ill afford with her debut historical mystery soon to be published.
But the next morning, Sam opens her shop to find the unpleasant woman dead on the floor, bashed with a heavy—apparently lethal—tome: the Complete Works of Agatha Christie. While Sam is busy writing her latest British historical mystery in which the queen mother is suspected in the murder of a London Times correspondent, a pair of ambitious cops suspect Sam of the real-life crime. When she gathers Nano Jo and their friends from the Shady Acres Retirement Village to review the case, they discover every one of the Mavens had a motive. With her novel about to hit the stores, Sam must find out who clubbed Delia before a judge throws the book at her . . .