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The top five cosy crime novels according to SJ Bennett in an article published on The Guardian

Here is SJ Bennet's selection of the top five cosy murders novels for The Guardian. Do you agree with this selection and think that Evil Under the Sun is Agatha Christie's cosiest book?

The top five cosy crime novels
SJ Bennett

A few words about SJ Bennett (photo on the right): After working as a strategy consultant, S.J. Bennett (born in 1966) began writing books for young people, followed by crime novels. She now lives in London. In the past, she herself came close to becoming Her Majesty's Deputy Private Secretary. Suffice to say, she knows her stuff!

“From Agatha Christie to Richard Osman, these books are not without seriousness but they are all set in warm and human worlds we might prefer to our own.

I’m not surprised that the humour and gentle escapism of cozy crime is having a moment. The books themselves are not a response to what we’re living through: most were written before lockdown or Cop26. But while noir profits from exploring our deepest anxieties, cozy taps into a need for self-protection that many readers are feeling right now. It doesn’t mean that a well-constructed cozy mystery is light or meaningless.

The top five cosy crime novels
The top five cosy crime novels

When I set out to write about the Queen as a secret detective, I wanted to explore a world run by a woman driven by a strong moral code. The sort who would say, on her 21st birthday, “My life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service,” and mean it. I wouldn’t say that integrity in public office is the defining characteristic of our age, but it can be relaxing to imagine it. Add to that a unique perspective on the world, a lifetime of high-level political experience, and access to any expert she pleases – and you have a ready-made investigator. The Queen was in fact one year older than Miss Marple, who first appeared in print in 1927. Is that really such a coincidence?

There is no such thing as a cozy crime, of course. Murder is murder. However, while there may be sex and violence in these stories, it is usually off-stage. In the following books, we spend our time with detectives who have somehow managed not to become drink-addled loners, who inhabit places we would like to live or visit, among communities who, despite their differences, ultimately trust each other and get along. It makes a change from the papers. What’s not to like?

The top five cosy crime novels

1. Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie

Written before the second world war, this Poirot novel is full of tightly wound characters hiding seething emotions. The plot contains masterful misdirection about place and time, but its success was also due in part to its depiction of summer sun, silk pyjamas, blue skies and sandy beaches. By the time it came out in 1941, the peacetime Devon coast where it’s set had become a fantasy world. The victim is obvious from the start, as so often in Christie’s novels, but by whose hand will she die, and why? And what about those silk pyjamas?

2. The Appeal by Janice Hallett

A postmodern, do-it-yourself mystery, composed exclusively of emails, texts and notes, in which the reader is asked to solve the crime. Set in the comfortable yet ruthless world of amateur dramatics, its comedy comes from the wide variety of the message-writers’ voices, from passive aggressive to desperate, all of which we recognize.

3. Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by MC Beaton

MC Beaton was one of the many pen names of the prolific Scottish author Marion Chesney, who died in 2019 having written 31 books about Agatha Raisin and 34 about Hamish Macbeth. If there’s anything cozy crime readers love more than an underestimated heroine, an Airbnb-worthy Cotswolds cottage and a cat, it’s a series. Agatha herself is a comic delight: sexy, vampish and rude, but hiding more than a few vulnerabilities, and not hiding them very well. I wasn’t convinced by the TV series, which didn’t quite capture her Birmingham roots with Mayfair overtones, but Penelope Keith makes Agatha her own in many of the audiobooks.

4. Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers

I grew up on golden age crime fiction, and fell in love with Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey as so many readers do. He is Bertie Wooster with Jeeves’s brain, made human by the first world war PTSD that still haunts him in moments of stress. In Strong Poison, he has fallen madly in love with Harriet Vane, a spiky, unyielding, intelligent woman who is condemned to hang for murdering her lover. Sayers clearly made Harriet a successful crime writer because if she couldn’t have her beloved Peter, then no one could.

5. Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

A beautifully descriptive tale of a young man who inserts himself into a wealthy family, knowing he is not the missing son they want him to be. The mystery he encounters is a slow-burn, but ends up with a not-so-cozy denouement worthy of Iain Banks.”

SJ Bennett

To be even more precise, please find below the summaries of the biographies of the authors, all of whom are women, selected by SJ Bennett.

The top five cosy crime novels
Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime

Agatha Christie was an English detective novelist and playwright. She was born in Torquay on September 15th, 1890. Christie wrote over 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, including Murder on the Orient Express and the Mystery of the Blue Train. She was known as 'the Queen of Crime’. Christie wrote the world’s longest running play called the Mousetrap. Her books have sold over a billion copies in the English language and a billion in translation. She died on January 12th, 1976.

The top five cosy crime novels
Janice Hallett

Janice Hallett (born in 1969) studied English at UCL and spent several years as a magazine editor, winning two journalism awards. After completing an MA in Screenwriting at Royal Holloway, she co-wrote the feature film Retreat. The Appeal was inspired by her lifelong interest in amateur theatre. Her second novel, The Twyford Code, will be published by Viper in 2022. When not indulging her passion for global adventure travel, she is based in West London.

The top five cosy crime novels
MC Beaton

M.C. Beaton (1936-2019) was born in Glasgow, Scotland. She started out as a bookseller, but by chance received an offer from the Scottish Daily Mail to review variety shows, and quickly established herself as a theatre critic. She then joined various magazines as an editor or journalist. After marrying and becoming a mother, M.C. Beaton moved to the United States, where she began writing Regency novels, recognised as the best of their kind. She decided to branch out and began writing crime novels. During a trip to Sutherland, a fishing course inspired her to write the first story of Hamish Macbeth, a Scottish policeman, which instantly became a best-selling series. When her son was admitted to Oxford, she moved to the Cotswolds, which inspired the character of Agatha Raisin, an explosive fifty-year-old former press officer turned detective. The series became a cult in England and now in France.

The top five cosy crime novels
Drorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy Leigh Sayers was an English crime writer, poet, playwright, and essayist. She was born on June 13, 1893, in Oxford, England and died on December 17, 1957, in Witham, Essex, England. She is best known for her mysteries featuring the English aristocrat and amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. Sayers was considered one of the four “Queens of Crime” during the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction,” alongside Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh. She was also a student of classical and modern languages and considered her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy to be her best work.

The top five cosy crime novels
Josephine Tey

Josephine Tey (1896-1952) is one of the pseudonyms of Elizabeth Mackintosh, a Scottish novelist and playwright known for her crime novels. She studied in Birmingham and became a teacher. She began writing when she was forced to give up her job to care for her invalid father. Six detective novels published under the pseudonym Josephine Tey feature her recurring hero, Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant. The most famous of these is "The Daughter of Time" (1951) - winner of the 1969 Grand Prix for detective fiction - in which Grant, confined to hospital, gets his friends to look for period books and documents in order to solve a historical mystery: did King Richard III of England murder his nephews, Princes Edward V of England and Richard of Shrewsbury? Under the name Gordon Daviot, she wrote a dozen one-act and longer plays, but only four of them were performed during her lifetime. "Richard of Bordeaux (1932) in particular was a great success in London's West End. John Gielgud (1904-2004) played the title role and went on to become a very popular actor. Several plays and a historical novel, "The Privateer" (1952), about buccaneer Henry Morgan, were published posthumously, as was "The Singing Sands" (1952), the last adventure of Inspector Grant. After her death, his royalties were donated to the National Trust.

Agrakal Editions, Communication Department


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