When it comes to mysteries, the cozy sub-genre tends to draw pretty extreme reactions. Most readers either love them or hate them. You can count me in the “love them” camp. They’re usually written in series, which is something I enjoy. Part of it probably goes back to growing up with the Hardy Boys (and, yes, Nancy Drew), but mostly I like seeing how the main characters change as the series advances. Of course, like everyone, I have my favorites, and ones I don’t like so well. So here’s a list of ten of my favorite cozy mystery series, as well as ones I don’t like so much.
- Mignon F. Ballard’s Augusta Goodnight series. How can you not like a series where the main character is a guardian angel? Augusta’s a guardian angel who likes to have fun. Her last visit to earth before the series begins was in the 1940’s, so culturally, she’s pretty much stuck in that era. As an guardian angel, she’s not particularly adept: she slips up sometimes. But still, she always manages to protect her charges and get them through the problems they’re facing.
- Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen series. This should come as no surprise to no one who knows me. Ever since I first discovered Pride and Prejudice in junior high school, Jane Austen’s been my favorite writer. This series, featuring Miss Austen involved in social (and even political) intrigues during her life is well written. Barron’s knowledge of Jane Austen is comprehensive and allows her to weave fact and fiction admirably. If you like Austen, the Regency period of English history, or historical books, then you’ll enjoy this series.
- M. C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series. Maybe it’s the Highland setting, maybe it’s the BBC series, but I always enjoy reading these books. Beaton doesn’t romanticize her location, something which other writers might be tempted to do. This small Scottish village has its own share of modern problems to face, and Macbeth does so quite well.
- Agatha Christie wrote two of my favorite series, as well as one I’m not fond of. Her Miss Marple series is consistently delightful. Miss Marple is everyone’s favorite spinster aunt, who just happens to excel at solving mysteries. And, she does it with just the knowledge she’s gained from observing her neighbors in her small English village of St. Mary Mead. In this case, I think the setting is a little romanticized from what such a location would have been, but not enough to detract from the enjoyment of reading and re-reading the Miss Marple stories.
- My other favorite Agatha Christie series is the Tommy and Tuppence series. There aren’t a lot of books in the series, and about half are connected collections of short stories. But the characters of Tommy and Tuppence, and their interactions with each other, more than make up for the lack of quantity. This is a series where we see the characters over time, from young and reckless, to older and more sedate with children of their own.
- Jeanne Dams’ Dorothy Martin series. Part of me likes this because of Dams’ Hoosier connections (she was born, raised, and continues to live in South Bend). But it’s also just a well-written, enjoyable series. According to Dams, she started the series so she could vicariously live the life of someone who moved from the US to a small English village, and the pleasure she takes in that alternate life shows clearly in her writing. The main character is a recently-widowed American who goes to England, gets involved in some nasty crimes, and yes, even finds love again.
- Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Bear series. For someone who enjoys food as I do (and once had fantasies of a culinary career), this is a natural. Goldy is a single mother and caterer in a suburban mountain town outside of Denver. Keeping up with Goldy’s life through the books is like hearing from an old friend you don’t see very often. Of course, the recipes included in every book make them even more enjoyable.
- Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series. This series has a lot to recommend it. Beginning in late-Victorian England, it’s a series where the characters age and grow as time passes. It has exotic locales. It has strong characters I care about. And it has Egyptology, which fascinates me. If you haven’t yet entered Amelia Peabody’s world, it’s a treat you owe yourself.
- Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax series. The idea of a widowed mother and grandmother being recruited by the CIA may seem a little far-fetched. Gilman makes it work with a determined, resourceful main character who just wants to serve her country. If you enjoy the books, you’ll definitely want to see the movie, Mrs. Pollifax-Spy, starring Rosalind Russell.
- Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. This series has been accused of “not really being mysteries.” I disagree. Even though the books focus on the relationships between the recurring characters, and their lives in Botswana, there is always some element of crime involved, no matter how small. I agree that McCall Smith really blurs the line between mystery and literary fiction, but that doesn’t make the books any less enjoyable. I look forward to each new book. If you enjoy this series, you may also enjoy the author’s Portuguese Irregular Verbs series. Even I can’t call them mysteries, but they’re a lot of fun.
I could go on, but I promised I’d leave the list at ten series. That’s where we are, so it’s time to move on to the series I don’t particularly care for.
- Barbara Allan’s Trash ‘n’ Treasure series. Our mystery book group read the first in this series, Antiques Roadkill, a few years ago. Honestly, none of us liked it. We found it predictable, we didn’t particularly like any of the main characters, and we felt it needed better editing. It’s a popular series, so maybe it’s improved since then. I just haven’t wanted to find out.
- M. C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series. I know, it’s odd that one writer could produce a series I enjoy very much (Hamish Macbeth) and one that I just don’t care for. Or maybe it’s not so strange, since Agatha Christie did the same thing. Anyway, I’ve tried with this series. I’ve read probably six of the books, and I just don’t like the main character. She’s pushy, abrasive, and very self-centered. I realize the author uses that to indicate a character with a lot of insecurities, and Agatha Raisin is loaded with insecurities, but it doesn’t make her any more likable. I just don’t care about Agatha Raisin.
- Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who series. I’m going to admit to cozy heresy here, but I just can’t read this series. It started out well, with pleasant writing and quirky characterizations, but after so many books it just started to seem like Braun was writing from a tired formula. I do enjoy listening to the audio books read by George Guidall, though. He has an excellent reading voice and is very good at distinguishing between characters. If you want to try this series, my advice is to get hold of the audio books.
- Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series. I’m sorry, I know I’m going to get in trouble for saying this, but I just don’t like Hercule Poirot. He’s arrogant, smug, supercilious and remarkably irritating. In my opinion, he’s one of the worst characters Christie ever created. I can watch the television series, because the actor who portrays Poirot (David Suchet) adds a lot of warmth, humanity and self-deprecating humor to his performance. But Poirot doesn’t come across well on the printed page.
- Carolyn Haines Southern Belle series. Like a lot of the series on this part of the list, it’s not that I actively dislike the books. It’s more that I just don’t care. I’ve tried reading a few of them, and I never finish them. I can’t put my finger on it, but for some reason they just don’t interest me.
- Tamar Myers Pennsylvania Dutch series. Because I have some Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry, I wanted to like this series. I’ve actually read a few of the books, and if I were in a cabin in the woods with nothing else to read, I’d probably finish another one. Otherwise, it’s another case of just not caring. It’s not a bad series, I just won’t go out of my way to read it.
And that’s where it ends today. As a rule, I like cozies. So there’s not as many series I don’t like as there are ones I do. I may have to do another ten favorites list in the future, because I had to leave some out.
Agree? Disagree? Want to tell me about your favorites? Let me know in the comments.