The City: Atlanta
Date: May 2015
As this is the debut entry of my blog it may be rather long, although, I hope, not tedious. Only you can judge.
My name is Gregory Nassif St. John and I’m a Cozy Mystery addict and I follow 27 cozy mystery series. If you count The Phryne Fisher Mysteries, The Charles Lennox Mysteries and The Grantchester Mysteries, that makes 30 series I follow, although, I hardly categorize the latter three as “Cozies” even though they do make me feel very cozy.
I pinpoint this addiction as beginning in late May of 2002. My husband, Jeff and I walked into Partners & Crime Mystery Booksellers on Greenwich Avenue in Manhattan one evening during a stroll and it proved to be a fatal mistake both in my reading habits and my book collecting. We were living in Manhattan at that time (I had been living there for nearly 20 years and had somehow never walked into that bookstore). Over the years, I have desperately tried to recall how stepping into that bookstore started me on the cozy addictive downward spiral. I have a vague memory of the lady behind the counter asking me what I liked to read. Now, I have always been a mystery reader beginning with the Meg Duncan series and the Bobbseys, proceeding to make my way through Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Judy Bolton, Ken Holt, Trixie Belden and far too many more juvenile series to even mention both well known and obscure. And I, of course, read all of Sherlock Holmes and worship Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. But by 2002, my reading material had been mainly limited to 19th century English literature – most especially Dickens, which is how I think this whole sickness got started. Because when I answered her question by saying I loved Dickens she pounced and said, “Well, then you would love this new series that has only been out a few years. There are four titles and they’re right there on that shelf.” She was pointing at the shelf near the door – where at that moment I had my hand on the doorknob ready to leave while Jeff was paying for a book he had found – (probably a Perry Mason). For some unknown reason, I took my hand off the doorknob and pulled out the first book of the four titles and read the back description. Now … I would have proceeded out the door; not really interested in getting involved in what I thought was probably some uninteresting, mindless read. (Yes, I realize that’s rather a snap judgement, however…) And I was still quite gun shy from the bandwagon I had jumped on three years earlier that I had sworn I was never going to jump on. And of course, when I did jump on it I became completely obsessed. So I was in no humour to jump on another. (That bandwagon by the way was the Hogwarts Express.) Anyway, remembering my trip on the Hogwarts Express and where it had lead me, I put the book back on the shelf, politely refusing her suggestion and repositioning my hand on the doorknob when Jeff, in what would become a pattern between us, insisted I get the books, grabbed them off the shelf and paid for them. I kept trying to prevent the sale, but it was no use. (In fact, he has become responsible over the years, either by buying me a “first in a new series” he’d discovered or point one out to me in the bookstore). That insistent purchase of his on my behalf was a pivotally fatal and definitive moment in what would be the great change in my reading material. The series was called, “The Gaslight Mysteries” by Victoria Thompson, and the main character was a mid-wife named Sarah Brandt. The stories were set in turn-of-the-century New York. I am making this confession and launching this blog now since I really do believe it was May when this happened 13 years ago and it has been every May since that I await the next installment. In any case, the die was cast and I took my four books home. I thought, “well, he bought them for me the least I can do is read them”. And I did. And I was hooked. Hopelessly hooked. I found myself in some kind of pseudo-opium-like cozy haze. Before I had even finished those first four titles, I was frantically trying to find out when the next title would be released. Victoria was the first author I reached out to, begging her to get Sarah and Malloy together. She very graciously answered me and gently reminded me that although there were already seven books, in real time in the storyline only a minimal amount of time had passed and it would be inappropriate at the turn-of-the-century for them to “get together”. Boy when that first kiss came – I can’t even remember which book now – I whooped with joy. I’m pretty sure I’ll cry at their wedding.
And now comes the part where I am unsure exactly how I got to obsessively follow 27 Cozy Series or which one came next; I honestly can’t remember – that cozy haze completely confusing me. I believe I then proceeded to begin a series called “Aunt Dimity” by Nancy Atherton to which I not only became hooked, but so deeply emotionally involved in the progress of the characters that I reached out to the author to tell her how wonderful I thought her characters and stories were. It was no surprise that anyone who wrote such dear stories and created such dear characters would write me back and confirm what a lovely, person she is. I immediately sent her a picture of the orange bunny I got for Easter 1965 and she put him up on her website. Now, let me assure you, that I am no groupie. I don’t like stuff like that. But I have to admit I have written several of the authors because I am so smitten with their characters, their stories and their writing in general. Cleo Coyle a.k.a Alice Kimberly a.k.a Alice Alfonsi author of The Coffee House Mysteries and The Haunted Bookshop Mysteries is another writer who has created such indelible, wonderful characters and who was very kind to answer my e-mail of fan devotion. Anyway, from the turn-of-the century New York of Mrs. Brandt to the paranormal world of Aunt Dimity, to the Village Blend Coffee House of Clare, Matt and Madame, for 13 years – and with no end in sight - I have religiously followed and continue to follow the series listed below (some of these series are finite – with no further titles being written and released). Please take a moment to visit these wonderful authors’ websites. They are all great storytellers and I am happy to spread the good news of these series for true mystery loving readers
MRS. BRANDT - THE GASLIGHT MYSTERIES
BY VICTORIA THOMPSON
The series that started it all and truly, consistently one of the very best!
THE JANE AUSTEN MYSTERIES
BY STEPHANIE BARRON
A sophisticated and beautifully written series and a joy for all mystery and Austen lovers.
BY NANCY ATHERTON
One of the loveliest and dearest cozy series with so much heart.
MRS. JEFFRIES MYSTERIES
BY EMILY BRIGHTWELL
A series that will so engage you in the lives of the characters and make you care so deeply, you won’t believe it. For all who haven’t explored this series you’re in luck because anthologies of the early titles are being published.
THE TEASHOP MYSTERIES and THE CACKLEBERRY CLUB MYSTERIES
BY LAURA CHILDS
Well, here’s one of those cases where I just don’t know how any one person can possibly find the time to write so many stories. I have gotten myself involved in two of the three, but I have vowed not to succumb to the third. Sorry Laura.
BY KATE CARLISLE
I started to resist this series … for about five seconds ... and then it was the point of no return.
THE WHITE HOUSE CHEF MYSTERIES & THE MANOR HOUSE MYSTERIES
BY JULIE HYZY
Ok. If for no other reason – the titles alone are worth exploring this series. But I warn you, you will get hooked so quickly you won’t now what hit you. A series with great characters, great humour and great stories.
THE LOIS MEADE MYSTERIES & THE IVY BEASLEY MYSTERIES
BY ANN PURSER
For any Anglophiles, both these series are ideal. They both have a very different tone from other cozy series and it’s a wonderful world to visit. Here's another writer who has three series, but I refuse to be pulled into a third!
A LIBRARY LOVER’S MYSTERY
BY JENN MCKINLAY
Another series that frustrates one’s romantic nature when the main character, Lindsey and her main squeeze are having conflict and all you want is for them to get married. Sigh. And yet, worth the frustration!
A BOOK COLLECTOR’S MYSTERY
BY VICTORIA ABBOT
Probably one of the best new series. Very interesting characters and great mysteries.
A NOVEL IDEA MYSTERY
BY LUCY ARLINGTON
A GEORGIA PEACH MYSTERY
BY SUSAN FURLONG
A Novel Idea is one of the first series I hooked my Aunt Lila on and she loved it because the main character’s name is Lila. And her mother, Althea, is one of the greatest characters in Cozies. And then … there had to be another series didn’t there? And I live in Georgia, don’t I? So how on earth could I resist starting – yet another series – with a title like Peaches and Scream? Is there no end to the madness? Geez.
A SOUTHERN BEAUTY SHOP MYSTERY
BY LILA DARE
Now … the only complaint I am going to lodge is that it seems there are no new titles in this series and that’s too bad because it is a witty and bright series and I miss all those ladies!
A MOLLY MURPHY MYSTERY, A ROYAL SPYNESS MYSTERY &
CONSTABLE EVANS MYSTERIES
BY RHYS BOWEN
And here’s another lady who insists on writing multiple series that absolutely compel you to read. I have addicted my mother and two aunts to Molly Murphy. Were there ever greater characters than Sid and Gus? All three series stand alone in their style and tone and all worth reading.
THE COFFEEHOUSE MYSTERIES
BY CLEO COYLE
THE HAUNTED BOOKSHOP MYSTERIES
BY ALICE KIMBERLY
Alice and her husband, Marc Cerasini, have created an amazing world with their books and their remarkable website. The only thing that is killing me is waiting for The Ghost and The Bogus Bookseller to be published. HOW MUCH LONGER?????!!!!!
THE BOOKTOWN MYSTERIES
BY LORNA BARRETT
Is there anybody who doesn’t want to live in the world created by Lorna Barrett and get to know those crazy sisters? I doubt it.
THE BOOK RETREAT MYSTERIES
BY ELLERY ADAMS
As if I really needed a new series like as this – the Fantasy Island of every mystery loving reader on planet earth. Hands down – hard to resist. Don’t try. Run don't walk. Storyton or bust.
WW II MANOR HOUSE MYSTERIES
BY KATE KINGSBURY
This is one of those unique and rare moments in cozy mystery writing. Although, I have all the Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries – I have not read them, however, the Manor House Mysteries are truly, truly wonderful. The rare thing I am speaking of is that when the author decided not to continue the series, she did the most generous thing she could for her readers: she wrote a wrap up on her website so that her loyal fans wouldn’t spend the rest of their lives wondering what the hell happened. God bless you Doreen for that!
THE PRINCETON SERIES
BY ANN WALDRON
This is a lovely and very wonderful series. Unfortunately, the author passed away in 2010, but her books live on and they are so worth reading.
THE ELIZA DOOLITTLE/HENRY HIGGINS MYSTERY SERIES
BY D.E. IRELAND
This is purely and simply not fair. So not fair. As an actor and a cozy addict – how does one resist a series like this? It’s new and I’ve already preordered the next volume. Not fair. Bernard Shaw would have been proud.
A FAIRY TALE FATAL MYSTERY
BY MAIA CHANCE
One of those moments when the fatal words on the cover of a book: First In a New Series means trouble. I tried to walk away – I couldn’t. This promises to be a great series. Don’t’ shy away.
THE NON-COZY COZIES
A CHARLES LENOX MYSTERIES
BY CHARLES FINCH
One of only two male writers I read, this series is at once sophisticated and charming. While not a cozy in my opinion, it is a great mystery series to curl up with while having tea. This author doesn’t seem to have his own website, but the books are all worth reading.
THE GRANTCHESTER MYSTERIES
BY JAMES RUNCIE
Again, not a cozy series, but just simply wonderful. Wonderful enough to have the BBC create a television series. And the television series is as wonderful as the books and the actors are all perfection. The books are a must read and then a follow-up with the BBC series mandatory.
THE PHRYNE FISHER MYSTERIES
BY KERRY GREENWOOD
I’ve saved something very special for last. This is most definitely not a cozy series, but it is one of the best written mystery series ever - on par with Sayers, Allingham and Hyer. It is sophisticated, compelling, witty and glamorous. You will fall in love with Phryne and everyone in the series. And although the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company) production series “Miss Fisher” puts its own twist on things, it doesn’t compromise the integrity of the books. The books and the ABC series stand alone brilliantly. The actors are all absolute perfection, most especially the very, very beautiful Essie Davis who plays Phryne. The series has one of the highest production values I’ve ever seen. And Kerry Greenwood’s stories are an absolute must read for every mystery reading addict. Kerry Greenwood is one of the author’s I reached out to and she responded with the same grace and wit that Phryne would have. I so hope she will give us another Phryne mystery soon.
There you have it. A full-blown addiction I know and not very pretty I admit. Hell, I have to keep a never-ending updated Excel spreadsheet just to keep up with new titles being released. And honestly, considering that over 90% of these titles are printed by Berkeley Crime, you’d think they’d have some kind of “rewards program” for addicts like me, but alas, no - even though they rake in quite a few hundred dollars a year from me as I maintain my habit.
Like most addicts, I like to share. I’ve gotten my Mother hooked on at least two series, my mother’s sister, my Aunt Martha on at least three series and my Aunt Lila – well, let’s just say she’s in a complete and permanent cozy haze and is deliriously delighted to remain there. In little over 14 months she read more than 100 titles. I just keep them coming and she just continues consuming.
Since 2003, when I hooked my mother and my Aunt Martha on The Gaslight Mysteries over the Christmas holidays, I preorder the next title for each of us so that every May we are positively giddy with glee when we receive the newest installment. And when I went to choose the series to begin addicting my Aunt Lila, I chose the Gaslight Mysteries – my beloved Mrs. Brandt – to begin what I knew would be the point of no return. I wasn’t disappointed. My Aunt Lila adored Mrs. Brandt and Frank and Mrs. Ellsworth – immediately. And all of us continue in a tortured state of bated breath for the long-awaited marriage of Sarah Brandt and Frank Malloy. Dear God please let this wedding take place this month with the release of “Murder On Amsterdam Avenue”!
With the confession of my addiction and my criminality in getting others hooked, it brings me to an important question: What makes cozy mysteries so addictive? And how can so many series exist; especially series that are similar in nature? How does the market bear this? I have no answer to the latter two questions, but I’ll take a stab at the first based on my own likes, dislikes and needs as a reader. To invest the kind of time, money and emotion that any genre reading demands means one must be a true reader; someone who quite simply loves books and everything about them; the touch, the feel, the smell, the story, the characters, the cover art … everything. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have books and either was being read to as a small child or reading myself. I carry a book with me wherever I go even if I know I probably will have no opportunity of reading it. Because, one never knows, does one? What if something dramatic happens and I find myself in a situation where I am just sitting and waiting. If I don’t have a book, what will I do? It’s my security blanket. In any case, what does make cozy mysteries so addictive? Well, I think mysteries, especially series mysteries, in general, are addictive because the characters are indelible. Case and point: Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot continue not only to survive, but thrive. And is there really a world without Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys? Certainly, not in my reality. But I think the term, “cozy” is the real key to the addiction. These cozy mystery writers create places and people that are identifiable to us. They paint pictures of those things in life that makes us feel secure and are most important: hearth and home and love. They tap into our fantasy lives. Above all, they make us care about their characters and their lives – insisting on our emotional devotion. Sarah Brandt and Frank Malloy don’t exist, but loyal readers so desperately and sincerely want them to be married so that Catherine and Brian can have a mother and father and Maeve a complete family. Hell … so Sarah and Frank can finally have sex for heavens’ sake! And we know there are no journals that, when opened, a fine copperplate script appears as it does to Lori as a way for Aunt Dimity to communicate with her. Yet, we buy into it; we allow it. That’s what we do when we go to the theatre or to the movies. We suspend our reality so we can be transported somewhere else and hence, be entertained. Books are personal. Reading tastes – individual. And cozy mysteries compel us to snuggle up and visit with our favorite characters as they play out their newest adventure. We love them. We cheer them on. We smile and laugh with them and, yes, we even cry with them and for them. This is the magic that cozy mystery writers make. I am constantly amazed by what great storytellers these writers are. In our present world, a world so confused, so at odds, so troubled – the stories and characters that the cozy community of authors offers us is a gift; a balm to soothe our troubles and an escape for us from the sad realities of now.
I heartily love all of my series; or couldn’t you tell? I certainly have my sentimental favorites – although I won’t say which ones. I don’t know how long the cozy trend will last – or how long some of the series I read will last. The one thing I do know is that I am not interested in a cure for my addiction. The amount of pleasure my cozies have brought me is not definable, but what these cozy mysteries have given to people like my mother, who’s only true enjoyment at this time in her life is to read or to people like my aunts who live alone and now have a world of wonderful stories and characters to keep them company, is absolutely immeasurable. The cozy writers, their stories and their characters have opened a world up to people like my mother and my aunts that give them hours of happy diversion and that is a very special and very great gift.
So I want to thank all the cozy mystery authors who have provided me with compelling stories and loveable characters that I look forward to visiting with every time a new title is released. It’s like having mini-reunions throughout the year. The hours of happy reading that they’ve have provided me with is something I will forever grateful for. Keep them coming please!
I hope readers of this blog will check out all the websites of the writers I’ve listed. There is so much more about these wonderful writers, their stories and their characters on their sites that I haven’t covered here.
Yes, I am a Cozy Mystery addict and I’m darned proud of it! If you're one, you should be too.
I’d love to hear from other cozy mystery addicts. If you wish to know more about me please log on to my website: www.gregorynassifstjohn.com.
PS – I have just completed reading Nancy Atherton’s recent Aunt Dimity: Aunt Dimity and The Summer King. As usual, Nancy gives us a charming and compelling read. Her gift in letting us witness the growth of her characters – watching the boys grow up and the miracle of a new baby girl – is what makes her one of the dearest writers of cozies with such a big heart. http://www.aunt-dimity.com