I received “Maid of Murder” and “Murder in a Basket” by Amanda Flowers as prizes during a Sisters in Crime anniversary party.
I enjoyed the first two books in an India Hayes Murder series and instead of a review (she is a friend after all) I will share some of the things I learned about writing a cozy mystery from reading her books.
The first obvious one is write what you know. Amanda and I are both from the Akron or the Northeast Ohio area. Her books are set in this area in a fictional town but nearby real references. I set my historical romances also in this area in the fictional town of Darrow Falls but with references to real places.
She introduces the main character, India, and creates sympathy for her by placing her in one of those awkward moments we have all experienced. In book 1, she is a bridesmaid for her best friend (who unfortunately is the murder victim) and has to wear an ugly dress. We’ve all been there and feel a bond toward her. In the second book she has to wear a historical dress, which most of us would also balk at, especially in public.
Other characters are introduced one at a time or in small groups and some are mean toward her. We don’t know if they’re suspects yet, but we’d like them to be.
Secrets and rumors are introduced in the second book to pique our interest while in the first, India is treated badly but not as badly as her love-struck brother, who has always had a crush on the bride-to-be.
Because it’s a cozy, there are dogs and cats and eccentric old ladies and nosy neighbors sprinkled among the small town setting.
The cop is an old boyfriend of India’s sister but the reader knows, even though India seems to be oblivious to the fact, that he’s interested in her. In any mystery, the love story is minor but can enhance the story. She can solve a mystery, but she doesn’t have a clue about love.
The main character discovers the dead body. In the first book, the suspect is her brother and their close bond makes it necessary for her to prove his innocence. In the second book, she befriends the son of the first victim and wants to find out the truth.
In this book there is a sidekick, like Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes, who offers some comic relief and helps with the investigation.
Suspects are eliminated one at a time and a motive is revealed, usually money.
She also adds a family crisis, which helps take the focus off the murder and expand what we know about the main character. Unlike traditional hard detective mysteries, the reader learns about the main character’s family, work, and dreams.
More suspects are added as the amateur sleuth interviews witnesses. Some pan out while others are dead ends.
A minor incident in the beginning often proves to be more important in the end.
By accident the heroine ends up finding herself alone with the killer who reveals his motive and threatens her. She fights back, rescues herself, and calls the cops who arrest the bad guy.
The story wraps up quickly at the end, but an epilogue gives us a glimpse into what happened to the main characters.