A couple of months ago I put dozens of award-winning mysteries on display at our library, organizing them by the awards they’d won: The Edgars (general mysteries), the Shamus (best private eye stories) and the Agathas (commonly thought of as the best “cozies”). I made bookmarks for each category showcasing recent prize winners. I kept coming across Donna Andrews’ name on the list for the Agathas, the awards that honor mysteries most representative of the style of Agatha Christie (amateur detective, closed setting). I placed a few copies of Six Geese a-Slaying face-out — and they got snatched up. In fact, the Agathas were the books that were picked up –and checked out — most often. That’s not at all what I would have expected at our downtown library, especially since many have kind of corny covers and our paperbacks are pretty beat up. Perhaps the Agathas had the best spot in the display area? We rearranged the mysteries, giving the Agathas a less prominent placement, not making a judgment but just experimenting. And still they flew, including the Donna Andrews’ bird titles (Cockatiels at Seven, We’ll Always Have Parrots, Murder with Puffins and Murder with Peacocks). What was up?
I have a couple of theories. The Edgar winners are often authors whose names are more familiar and are often bestsellers, such as Ian Rankin, Jess Walter, S.J. Rozan, John Hart. Book browsers know where to look for them on the shelves. Cozies, on the other hand, are rarely on display (see above about corny covers) and the authors’ names are (usually) not well known. Or maybe readers wanted something like a cozy, but didn’t know it because they think that all that’s available are the ones starring cat detectives. In any event, what this experiment showed me is that there are a lot of readers looking for light and/or amusing mysteries. And this brought me to Donna Andrews. Her Meg Langslow series (with the bird titles) are definitely light and/or amusing (although not my favorite kind of amusing). Small town, an amateur detective (Meg is an artist/craftswoman/blacksmith), a little love (but no sex), and the murder always takes place off camera. They’re kind of like watching Murder, She Wrote, which I always found immensely soothing and soporific. Also, I will never admit that I have a soft spot for Murder, She Wrote.
Another cozy author in the A’s: Susan Wittig Albert. I used to read her China Bayles series (high powered Houston attorney quits law and opens an herb shop) and I enjoyed revisiting her this time around.