Does a Cozy Sleuth Have to be an Amateur? Elaine L. Orr

Can a police procedural be a cozy? No. Well…maybe.

When ideas pop into my head and don’t leave after a few days, I pay attention. In fall of 2015, I heard a couple of stories about restaurants doing away with tips. My immediate thought, as a mystery writer, was “that could be worth killing for.”

The setting appeared spontaneously -- a small-town diner situated in a town similar to the central Illinois towns I drive through regularly. Within two days after the diner waltzed into my brain, I had some quirky town residents and a first chapter – and a dead guy.

Things slowed down. I had another book under contract, and I needed time to develop characters. Plus, I had not figured out who would investigate the murder. Usually I start with that!

I was also doing something very different than in my other books – chapter one would be from a narrator’s point-of-view and the rest of the book from a sleuth’s. And that sleuth? Nothing made sense except having her be the small town’s police chief.

But I don’t write graphic murders or use CSI-type evidence, which is often what goes hand-in-hand with police procedural novels. I debated the approach, not certain if my cozy readers would be willing to be involved with the police instead of an amateur sleuth.

Finally, Chief Elizabeth Friedman emerged. She came to the small Illinois town of Logland to get away from some of the more graphic murders she’d investigated in Chicago. She’s no wimp, but she likes the pace in Logland and has gotten to know local merchants and some of the town’s more colorful characters. Now some of them are suspects.

So, is Tip a Hat to Murder a cozy? Cozies mysteries feature violence that is off-screen (the sleuths discover the body, not witness a murder), love is an option but not sex scenes, and the setting is often a smaller community. Many of these novels employ humor, and the amateur sleuth’s profession often figures into the story.

Most aspects of the book fit the definition. Elizabeth is friends with the medical examiner, but she doesn’t stand over the autopsy table while he points to the bullet’s path through a shredded liver. She’s called to the crime scene rather than forcing herself into the investigation, but she initially doesn’t have a lot more clues than an amateur would.

Neither the town residents or members of the agricultural college’s fraternity are helpful. Why would they be? One of them is a killer, and the others can’t believe anyone they know would be one.

Humor? I found a police chief’s experiences rife with better opportunities than my traditional cozies. An amateur sleuth would not be called to the frat house because goats chased a campus cop onto a table.

Unlike a traditional police procedural (pardon the oxymoron), the interviews are professional but less formal. Not a single cop swears like the guy in the tank top who gets arrested on reality TV shows, and town residents usually call Chief Friedman by her given name of Elizabeth. She varies how she introduces herself based on the situation.

I was so certain this would be a single mystery rather than a series that I wrote a blog post about how differently I approached the stand-alone story than my two series. Oops. Fell in love with the characters.

Writing the second book of what is now the Logland Mystery Series may be the tougher part of making a police chief the protagonist of a cozy mystery. The one thing that will be easier is finding a reason for her to pursue the murderer. I just have to figure out if the chief and the medical examiner can become more than friends without causing a local scandal…


Elaine L. Orr authors the Jolie Gentil and the River’s Edge mystery series, and was pleased to find the Logland series taking place in her home state of Illinois. She writes, blogs, and teaches online classes in self-publishing.


Jackie Houchin said…
You had me with your "no graphics and cussing!" Why CAN'T a police chief be a sleuth in a... well, if not cozy, then at least a traditional mystery. (no knitting, cooking, baking, animals involved, scrapbook making, I presume?) I think of Marilyn Meredith herself - her police series is MORE of a cozy than a police procedural too. It works. She has many books out. Nothing wrong with clean mysteries for us more gentle readers. WE want to see the police at work too, and as NOT as a buffoon or corrupt!
And, I LOVE how the premise came to you. I often get story ideas (for short stories) like that. A diner, mid-town USA. What's not to love. Still... I might have chosen another name for the town besides Logland. For me it's a bit hard to say... like my tongue gets to rolling, like it wants to gargle. (Sorry! I don't mean to be mean or critical. It's just a personal thing.) Anyway - that's YOUR town, so go for it! Good luck with #2.
Thanks, Jackie, you said what I planned to say. Many say my books border on cozy--and they do.
Thanks for visiting, Elaine, great topic!

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