?

Log in

(no subject)

« previous entry | next entry »
Dec. 5th, 2012 | 09:49 pm

I was in Waterstones last week, and discovered that they had a bookcase devoted solely to what they called "Cosy Crime". It included Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie, to my great bemusement.

Here is the ending of Unnatural Death:

'An evil woman, if ever there was one,' said Parker, softly, as they looked at the rigid body, with its swollen face and deep, red ring about the throat.
Wimsey said nothing. He felt cold and sick. [...] Six o'clock had struck some time before they got up to go. It reminded him of the eight strokes of the clock which announce the running-up of the black and hideous flag.
As the gate clanged open to let them out, they stepped into a wan and awful darkness. The June day had risen long ago, but only a pale and yellowish gleam lit the half-deserted streets. And it was bitterly cold and raining.
'What is the matter with the day?' said Wimsey. 'Is the world coming to an end?'
'No,' said Parker, 'it is the eclipse'.


And this passage from The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club:

'Muttering', Wimsey remembered, had formerly been the prelude to one of George's 'queer fits'. These had been a form of shell-shock, and they had generally ended in his going off an wandering about in a distraught manner for several days, sometimes with a partial and occasionally with complete temporary loss of memory. There was the time when he had been found dancing naked in a field among a flock of sheep, and singing to them. [...] Then there was a dreadful time when George had deliberately walked into a bonfire.


And, of course, the ending of Busman's Honeymoon:

'They hate executions, you know. It upsets the other prisoners. They bang on the doors and make nuisances of themselves. Everybody's nervous.... Caged like beasts, separately.... That's the hell of it ... we're all in separate cells.... I can't get out, said the starling.... If one could only get out for one moment, or go to sleep, or stop thinking.... Oh, damn that cursed clock! ... Harriet, for God's sake, hold on to me ... get me out of this ... break down the door....'
'Hush, dearest. I'm here. We'll see it out together.'
Through the eastern side of the casement, the sky grew pale with the forerunners of the dawn.
'Don't let me go.'

The light grew stronger as they waited.
Quite suddenly, he said, 'Oh, damn!' and began to cry - in an awkward, unpracticed way at first, and then more easily. So she held him, crouched at her knees, against her breast, huddling his head in her arms that he might not hear eight o'clock strike.


Annie's speech when confronted in Gaudy Night has been left out due to length, but it's about as un-cosy as you can get.

Sayers' work (in addition to the murders, Poison Pen letters and so on, which are only to be expected in crime novels, even cosy ones) include suicides and attempted suicides, mental illness, discussion of war, drowning, bigamy, drugs, homosexuality (arguably. And obviously this is not at all like suicide, but I think doesn't quite fit into the "cosy" category, which I am mentally defining as "things that wouldn't upset your average Daily Mail reader), extra-marital affairs and lots of unmarried sex. Christie I know less well, but And Then There Were None is chilling, at least one book contains a murderous child, and the motive for the murder in Murder on the Orient Express is the kidnapping and murder of a very young girl, the latter not stopping the murderer from collecting the ransom money. I think the Waterstones staff might be confusing "cosy" with "Golden Age detective fiction".

(I did not say anything about it, because last time I raised my concerns with a display at Waterstones I got the very distinct impression that the member of staff I was talking to thought I was crazy. But still, it is a ridiculous category for those books.)

Link | Leave a comment | Share

Comments {12}

antisoppist

(no subject)

from: antisoppist
date: Dec. 6th, 2012 10:34 am (UTC)
Link

I agree entirely. Are they using "cosy" just to mean "does not involve torture, dismemberment, psychopathic serial killers and eyeballs hanging out of their sockets", which I would quite like a warning for on most modern crime fiction? In which case "Golden Age detective fiction" would do just as well.

Reply | Thread

littlered2

(no subject)

from: littlered2
date: Dec. 6th, 2012 07:12 pm (UTC)
Link

I assume that must be the case - "has disturbing things in, but not *modern* disturbing things, so it's fine". Not all of them were Golden Age - I was just nipping in and out for a present in my lunchbreak, so didn't have a chance to peruse them properly, but I did spot some M.C. Beaton.

"Cosy" is, anyway, an utterly useless title. Sayers must be turning in her grave.

Reply | Parent | Thread

antisoppist

(no subject)

from: antisoppist
date: Dec. 7th, 2012 11:25 am (UTC)
Link

A friend of mine sent me a load of ebook "quilting mysteries" (which I haven't read) and I suspect they might qualify as cosy, unless people get their entrails pulled out by crochet hooks or something. Similarly, books where mysteries are solved by cats.

Reply | Parent | Thread

littlered2

(no subject)

from: littlered2
date: Dec. 9th, 2012 11:08 pm (UTC)
Link

Perhaps the victims get smothered by fabric, or viciously stabbed with embroidery scissors. And, as Pratchett points out, cats are vicious bastards. I can imagine one of mine being an extremely un-cosy detective. (If any suspects were mice, they'd be in trouble.)

Reply | Parent | Thread

serriadh

(no subject)

from: serriadh
date: Dec. 7th, 2012 12:50 pm (UTC)
Link

I think 'cosy' is supposed to refer to the settings not the crimes, so it's the fact that it's country houses, nice seaside towns, upmarket bits of London, etc. etc. where the crimes are discovered. Like the 'cosy apocalypses' of John Wyndham, where the terror is supposed to be that it's normal English village life being disrupted (by aliens or whatever) rather than an "exotic" destination. I agree though that very little in Sayers is remotely "cosy". Though not as bad as the American publisher's blurb which says she 'was a lay theologian who knew the Inklings'.

Reply | Thread

littlered2

(no subject)

from: littlered2
date: Dec. 9th, 2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
Link

That makes a lot of sense - Sayers' plots aren't usually taking place in East End slums, or similar. Say what you will about Helen, Duke's Denver isn't exactly a grim setting.

Oh dear. I mean, it's broadly factually true, but not hugely representative.

Reply | Parent | Thread

serriadh

(no subject)

from: serriadh
date: Dec. 7th, 2012 12:52 pm (UTC)
Link

[btw, I have friended you, because I quite often drift over to your lj from friends' friends, and we have actually met in person at C's party...]

Reply | Thread

littlered2

(no subject)

from: littlered2
date: Dec. 9th, 2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
Link

Hello! It's always nice to make new friends. I shall friend you back.

Reply | Parent | Thread

hedge_backwards

(no subject)

from: hedge_backwards
date: Dec. 7th, 2012 05:24 pm (UTC)
Link

If I were going to draw any distinctions between 'types' of crime novels; which would probably be a fool's errand in the first place, I would group them as crime fiction which treats the crime as an intellectual problem to be solved on the part of the detective and by extension, the reader and those which deal with the crime as a social or psychological symptom. The latter often don't have most complex of plots where the actual crime is concerned. It's really more of an excuse to involve a lot of interesting character types in an extreme situation and to record the ensuing explosions (sometimes literally). I would place Christie firmly in the former camp but I have trouble defining Sayers, true, she deals with fully rounded characters and the cases are rarely concluded in the library with brandy and cigars, after which, everyone but the murderer goes merrily on their way as though they've done nothing more than solve a particularly difficult crossword. However she does seem to set out her stall in Busman's Honeymoon when Peter emphasises the importance of the 'how' rather than the why. However, he might be describing Harriet's fiction rather than Sayers', which would be borne out by the passage in Gaudy Night where he tells Harriet that she is capable of writing more profoundly than the clever puzzles that she is currently producing.

Leaving that aside it is ridiculous to a) map these distinctions along a timeline and b) label them as 'cosy' or not. One of the prime examples of the symptom type is Crime and Punishment where it's pretty damn clear who the murderer is and how he did it by virtue of the fact that the crime and subsequent flailing around St Petersburg is written from his POV. This is the paradigm that most of the supposedly 'non-cosy' Scandanavian crime writers are operating in, certainly people like Jo Nesbo, who seems to use a crime novel as a format to write about addiction, psychology, imperialism, racism etc etc. However, I would not describe problem-focused writers like Christie as 'cosy' in fact, its actually more chilling to view a crime solely as an intellectual game with few profound effects on the people it touches. (I may be doing Christie a disservice here, I have not actually read all of her works, merely the major ones, and those were some time ago.)

Of course what the Waterstones staff might be doing is drawing a line between a certain type of American crime fiction where the authors are involved in an arms race over who can make their books more 'shocking' and the rest. In which case it would probably be more honest to put a sign reading 'Rubbish' over the former.

Reply | Thread

littlered2

(no subject)

from: littlered2
date: Dec. 9th, 2012 11:22 pm (UTC)
Link

Ooh, this is interesting! Looking at which camp Sayers belongs to, she wrote Five Red Herrings specifically to show she could write an intellectual-puzzle style mystery (although I get the impression, from an admittedly small sample size, that it's not hugely popular. Could this be why?), and even as early as Unnatural Death, there's a presumption throughout the book that Mary Whittaker did it - it's just finding out how and why that's the problem. So in some ways the intellectual puzzle aspect is there, but at the same time her characters are very three-dimensional, even the minor ones, and it's not just a Christie-eque "here are the puzzle pieces, let's spend a book putting them together". And the solution to the mystery is often not as interesting as the other things going on around it.

true, she deals with fully rounded characters and the cases are rarely concluded in the library with brandy and cigars, after which, everyone but the murderer goes merrily on their way as though they've done nothing more than solve a particularly difficult crossword.

And, in fact, this is dismissed pretty quickly in the first book, where Parker rightly tells Peter that he can't just treat crime-solving as a game and act under the code of the Eton playing field; justice is the important thing. Your point about intellectual puzzle mysteries being extremely uncosy, as they ignore the human realities of murder, is an excellent one. (I haven't read enough Christie to judge, either - but off the top of my head, I can think of several of her books that involve couples getting together, the murder case merely acting as a catalyst and the characters merrily laughing over their situation afterwards (rather than being all, "OH NO MY FRIENDS ARE DEAD AND ONE IS A MURDERER. LET'S NOT JUST BLITHELY PLAN A WEDDING". And Poirot doesn't seem to have PTSD flashbacks when about to bring a criminal to justice).

I feel your final explanation may well be the correct one. 21st century, inner-city, gritty stuff with guns and drugs is "Crime"; anything not conforming to that pattern is "Cosy Crime". It is enough to make one weep. (Perhaps I should have a rant at the staff about how Sayers is not cosy, after all. "Have you even read Gaudy Night?")

Reply | Parent | Thread

hedge_backwards

(no subject)

from: hedge_backwards
date: Dec. 7th, 2012 06:41 pm (UTC)
Link

This is how crime novels should be shelved...



Edited at 2012-12-07 06:43 pm (UTC)

Reply | Thread

littlered2

(no subject)

from: littlered2
date: Dec. 9th, 2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
Link

Perfect.

Reply | Parent | Thread