Monday, May 6, 2024

A Couple of Cozy Sleuths With Something to Hide: Guest Post by Hal Glatzer

Cozy protagonists aren’t supposed to have secrets, and cozy mysteries aren’t supposed to be controversial. But my new cozy, The Nest is poised to break those rules.

Herman and Teddie (née Theodora) are a playful, affectionate couple in their sixties, telling their own story in alternating first-person voices: his and hers. One morning they wake up to find the body of their landlord right under their balcony. Everyone says it was an accident—except them, and the homicide detective. But she wants to charge them with his murder.

In a cozy, that’s a familiar starting point. Finding themselves in trouble, they’re desperate to know what really happened. But never having done any kind of sleuthing, they start asking questions and naively follow a thread of criminal mischief in the city that—they realize too late—poses a threat to their very lives. Their neighbors, their friends, even the police have secrets. And motives. The harder they look, the more suspects they find.

But just as they connect all the dots, they risk falling into the worst trouble of all: If they reveal too many of other people’s secrets, their own secret could be exposed.

They are married—but not to each other. They are friends-with-benefits, and “the Nest” is what they call the apartment where they get together a few times a week. To my knowledge, this twist in the setup has never before found its way into a cozy, and may well prove controversial

Herman and Teddie are in sexless marriages, and they have already considered and rejected other ways to cope with that. They don’t want to spread themselves thin online, piling up one-night-stands. Herman doesn’t won’t hire hookers, or be a sugar-daddy to a young woman. Teddie won’t hire escorts, or play “cougar” to a man young enough to have been one of her former high school students. Becoming friends with benefits is their safest alternative, the least likely to be exposed or to leave them vulnerable to blackmail.

They are, after all, responsible adults. They rent their Nest so they won't use their own homes or marital beds. And they set rules for their affair (Teddie tells Herman she has "Three no-nos: no pain; no humiliation; and no restraint.") But their big rule is "No falling in love!" They are not looking to run away from or divorce their spouses. Becoming wildly, madly romantic would screw up their otherwise happy marriages to spouses they respect. 
There are traditions that authors are expected to follow in cozies that distinguish the genre from, say, literary fiction (no deep psychoanalysis!), hardboiled yarns (no gory details!), and romance novels (no explicit sex!). The Nest, I’m pleased to say, has none of these.

By tradition too, cozy protagonists are not professional detectives like Sherlock Holmes or Inspector Maigret. Nor are they amateur detectives, like Nancy Drew or Lord Peter Wimsey, who deliberately seek out mysteries to solve, but aren’t in it for money. Cozy protagonists are accidental detectives: ordinary people who just happened to be there at the wrong time or the wrong place, and are thrust into a mystery, forced by circumstance to get involved and seek the truth, often—as in The Nest—against their will.

But concealing secrets? The day-to-day lives of accidental detectives are supposed to be (as it were) an open book. Some are single but few are loners; most have spouses or close families, or they are well-known in the networks of their communities. Cozy protagonists typically run a business, or make art, or pursue a hobby . . . something that has nothing to do with crime but which, somehow, is a gateway to confronting it. Not Herman and Teddie; they’re retired.

A typical cozy protagonist also has a friend, a relative, a neighbor—maybe even an ex—who’s a cop: someone in law enforcement to whom they can turn for professional assistance when the going gets tough. But Herman and Teddie don’t have any such connections, and they don’t trust the detective who’s out to get them. At least they have a lawyer, and they certainly need her!

Like their readers, Herman and Teddie are mature, intelligent people. But they have this secret. . .  It’s key to everything that happens, so they do let their readers in on it early in the book. But it will come as a surprise—maybe even a shock—because, most likely, it has never found its way into a cozy before now.
Hal Glatzer is best known for historical mysteries: his Katy Green series set in musical milieux in the years just before World War II; his pastiche stories of Sherlock Holmes, set authentically in the Victorian/Edwardian era; and his illustrated novel, Dead In His Tracks, about the rise and fall of a family-owned streetcar line through the decades of the 20th century. With The Nest, Hal brings his mystery fiction into the present day. When he is not being an author, he is a performer, singing from the Great American Songbook. Explore Hal’s mysteries and music at

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