ABOUT THE BOOKThe elevator won’t go to the tenth floor, someone is breaking into condos, and the well-heeled Ukrainian renter isn’t paying the rent. Beth and Arnie have retired to the building where Beth’s last rental unit is located, and Beth, the klutzy landlady, has declared herself through solving mysteries. Then, her renter is arrested for the murder of the neighbor who fell (was pushed?) from the tenth-story balcony and the dead neighbor’s grandchildren are left with only their wheelchair-ridden grandmother to care for them. Beth feels compelled to help out.
Are Sylvester’s psycho-cat behaviors providing clues? Is the renter actually the killer? Do the break-ins and elevator problem have anything to do with the murder? Even Arnie, who has always told Beth to keep her nose out of police business, gets involved—for the sake of the children.
GUEST POST BY JOYCE ANN BROWN
The Cozy Clean Murder Mystery:
How to Portray a Vile and Evil Antagonist without Using Violence and Profanity
In contemporary movies and some television shows, cursing has become ubiquitous. Criminals cuss, detectives swear, victims moan obscenities, and bystanders shout expletives. Gun battles, knife fights, and torture are common. Blood dominates the scenes, and body parts pile up center stage in many fiction plots.
Used too much, these shock scenes become not only vulgar but also stale. Recently, I began reading a romantic mystery in which the protagonist, the antagonist, and whoever came on the scene swore on every page. I didn’t find one character to like and couldn’t finish the book. It didn’t matter to me whodunit—all were pretty despicable.
How, then, can an author create a cozy mystery that involves a ghastly murder by an evil, contemptible individual without using profanity or showing the perpetrator disemboweling a cuddly kitten? The following are some examples of how talented authors have accomplished the task with style:
• The body is discovered, but the murder isn’t witnessed by the sleuth. It could be inside an empty house that’s for sale (Murder in Merino by Sally Goldenbaum), in a stream near a charming resort (The Cat Who Went Up the Creek by Lilian Jackson Braun), in a claw foot bathtub (Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen), floating down a millstream outside of a quaint Scottish village (Weeping on Wednesday by Lois Meade), on a bed in an upstairs bedroom of an English manor (The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie), in a hot tub at a woodsy resort in Canada (A Killer Retreat by Tracy Weber), or in a room at a destination wedding in Mexico (Dizzy in Durango by D.R. Ransdell).
• A character is described as having empty eyes, a false smile that doesn’t reach the eyes, a sneer, or a calculating squint—foreshadowing that gives the reader an impression of someone not to trust. The reader doesn’t see the person doing anything bloody. The description could be there to create a red herring.
• An animal or small child recoils from one of the suspects even though that person smiles or acts friendly. (The Cat Who . . . books accomplish this very well. The sleuth notices Ko Ko’s peculiar attitudes towards people but doesn’t give them credence until the end when the clues come together).
• A character is seen doing something suspicious—following in a car, hiding behind a newspaper, peeking through a window, etc.
• The perpetrator of the crime pretends to be a good, solid citizen.
• The perpetrators are not too bright and blurt mispronunciations or silly remarks rather than swear words.
• If there is a climax where a character is captured by the criminal, the language is described as indecent, vile, foul, ear-burning, gutter language, swearing a blue streak, expressions the good guys have never even heard, etc. but never spelled out.
• Euphemisms (heck, dang) or symbols (@#%*) are used when an innocent character blows up.
In my cozy Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mystery series, I use several of these devices. The thieves and murderers in CATastrophic Connections pretend to be friends until the climax. At that point, one of them lets loose with a couple of mild cuss words.
Psycho Cat discovers a skeleton in the attic in FURtive Investigation. The reader follows Beth, the sleuth, as she digs into the cold case, but the reader doesn’t know who the killer is until the end. Her suspects pretend to be upstanding citizens.
Children and immigrants with special problems complicate Beth’s sleuthing in Nine LiFelines. Suspects are in jail, don’t speak English well, or act like friends. There’s no off-color language, only some foreign languages.
What do you think? Do you like charming stories that use clean language or do you want the bad guys to be depicted using street language?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Her actual tenants have never disappeared, murdered, or been murdered. Nor have any of them found a skeleton in the attic. Joyce has never solved a crime. Moose and Chloe, her cats, haven’t sniffed out a mystery, at least not yet.
Joyce spends her days writing (with a few breaks for tennis, walking, and book clubs) so that Beth, the landlady in the series, and Sylvester, the Psycho Cat, can make up for her real-life lack of excitement in a big way.
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