Please welcome back Jeanne of the Bookblog of the Bristol Public Library as she considers the first person technique in terms of cozies.
First Person Cozy
Some years ago, I was trying to explain to a non-mystery reading colleague about some of the differences between the subgenres: hard-boiled, police procedural, thriller, and cozy. Sometimes for me it’s just a gut feeling as to what is cozy and what is straight mystery, so I consulted other sources. Most of the answers overlapped, but I remembered that at least one source said that cozies usually have first person narrators. I didn’t include that in my description but filed it mentally to consider later.
I have been on a cozy reading binge for the past year and there are indeed a lot of first persons out there, so much so that it came as a surprise to find a recent third person. So why so many “I”s out there?
My guess—authors, please weigh in!—is that it makes it easier to build a connection with the reader to have a character explain her (it’s usually a female) emotions and build empathy. It also gives readers the feeling that we’re following the sleuthing processes – right up until our heroine has her inspiration, which she doesn’t divulge even though we’ve been privy to her every sensation from drooling over some hunk to drooling over some hamburger. She only shuts up over the solution, which may be a charitable attempt to give the reader more time to figure it out.
It also gives the author a way to try to convince the reader that the heroine isn’t just being Too Stupid To Live when she rushes down the cellar stairs in the dark and clad only in her nightie to investigate that strange sound. The readers can find out that our heroine is aware of the danger, knows she’s being a cliché, but gosh darn it all, she feels as if she simply must go down there.
First person allows the author to avoid some stilted conversations. The heroine can simply explain to the reader how to juggle eggs or the history of a town rather than have two people meet and discuss the subject so that the reader knows this vital piece of information.
Of course, there can be pitfalls to using first person. For example, one series was frustrating for me at first because the heroine seemed to be rather dense. She would describe seeing someone, say, in an obvious blonde wig and be surprised to see that same blonde wig show up at three other locations while seeming clueless that she was being followed. A couple of books into the series, it changed to third person and it was amazing how much our sleuth seemed to smarten up. My theory is that the author was trying to let the reader draw conclusions so she didn’t let the narrator share her thoughts, giving the impression she was oblivious. With third person, the audience knew Our Heroine was noticing things but third personal allowed her to keep her thoughts to herself.
Also, there are some people who dislike first person narration and won’t read a book that uses it. That’s a shame, because those folks will miss wonderful books by authors such as Mary Stewart and Daphne Du Maurier. For me, it matters less how it’s done than that it’s done well.
I’m still not convinced that first person is a hallmark of a cozy book; I can think of many examples of cozies that don’t use it and many examples of other sorts of mysteries that do.
What say you all?