Essential Hardboiled Reading for Cozy Mystery Authors (And Readers)

I finally got around to starting Stephen King's new novella collection, "Full Dark, No Stars," and was taken with the second tale, "Big Driver."


In it, an author of cozy mystery novels is waylaid, beaten, raped and left for dead. She survives ... to carry out a plan for bloody justice and revenge that would shock the fictional little old ladies of her creation, the "Willow Grove Knitting Society."


I haven't liked much of King's work in the last 15 years or so, but this is an absolute ripper of a yarn. Great idea, great execution, great female heroine.

Views: 203

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Also STAND BY ME, adapted from a King novella, THE BODY.

If you think Stephen King is horrific, and you are disturbed by reading about bodies being sawed apart---remember that FACT trumps fiction every time. There are plenty of times when I have shared your feelings about a particular writer or novel. I just don't want to go there. I have put down more than one of King's novels for that reason---though I still think he's a brilliant writer, and a great storyteller. I can't bear even the fictional torture of animals, even though I know that it happens in the real world all the time.

So, I am sure you are not denying that horrible things have been done by human beings to other humans beings, and you simply choose not to dwell on these grislier details of man's inhumanity to man....but sometimes we have to face the facts. We get pounded by all sorts of things we'd rather ignore, and some of us just get weary of it.  You can choose what you wish to read, and if decapitation and the like disturbs you, then you are better off with fiction that avoids that kind of metaphor.

Real history, however, makes Stephen King's worst horrors seem...well....almost tame....and then again,  eerily real.  I've lately been immersed in Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror,"  a history of the 14th century in Europe. The title is the clue: our own time mirrors that dreadful era. But if such deeds as were perpetrated then, to the point where they became part of the fabric of daily existence for some,  become a part of our collective psyche, then Stephen King (and others who explore the territory of "horror" via the Supernatural)  are not too far off the mark.

I have at times  been repelled by some of the violence in SOME of his novels, but somehow, reading books like "A Distant Mirror" gives me a different perspective. No, I don't necessarily seek it out, and it may not send me runnng back to the Stephen King shelf,  but I don't want to turn a blind eye, either. Life is not all sweetness and light, even in fiction. If we are to protect ourselves from horror, we have to acknowledge that it exists.

The better writers  (of horror) try to put horror --whether sensational or private---in some perspective, tell us why it has come to pass, or how we can come to terms with it or with the part of it than hunkers down inside us all.

What I thought was especially interesting about this story was the way King set up the second act: If the rape victim goes to the police, she believes that the potential for ensuing publicity — she IS something of a public figure — would destroy her career. She feels that the women who reads the Willow Grove Knitting Society mysteries would have a hard time associating the author they love with the sort of crime they find abhorrent, and ultimately they would stop buying her books because they don't want to think about rape and brutalization.


And doing nothing is not an option, she also reasons, because the rapist has her purse with all her ID. If he ever spots her alive around town, he'll know where to find her — and finish the job.


So, she believes, her only choice is to hunt down and kill her attacker.


Ingenious table-setting, in my opinion.

I don't doubt for a moment that authors of cozies are perfectly capable of bloody thoughts. MISERY is the one where the female holds the writer prisoner, right?  King has a curious perspective on what women are capable of.  I'm not saying he is wrong, but . . .

Horror was the main ingredient in the fairy tales grandmothers told their grandchildren.  My take on that is that little kids need to be exposed to the dangers in life.  Why adults revel in the stuff escapes me.

Right on, I.J.

I saw the film Misery.  Kathy Bates, one of my favorite actresses, did a fine job, but I still had to turn my head and cover my ears when she was about to break (I assume) his knees.  I simply cannot stomach that kind of "stuff."  I am not sure that I knew the story was by Stephen King.  Too long ago.


Why adults revel in the stuff escapes me.


Because they really never grow up?

Possibly, but I like Dana's explanation: the delicious shiver, knowing that one is safe. I don't read King, but I also don't believe that King belongs to the school of gross violence involving mutilations etc.

And yes, I also find many cozies offensive because they play parlor games (Clue?) with murder. The older cozies generally have a character who is morally dispensable (an unkind and unpleasant person without significant usefulness to society) as a victim.  Where there are multiple victims (AND THEN THERE WERE NONE?) most of the people are marked for death by their background. That posits that some people need killing and the rest is a game.  The more modern cozies tend to be frivolous in one way or another, and most still cling to the puzzle solving.  That, I suppose, is also a somewhat childish hobby. 

the delicious shiver, knowing that one is safe.

Well, hoping we are, anyway!  But in thinking that, perhaps we do revert to our childhoods.:)


Not so much to revel, perhaps, as to reassure themselves. The story is a story, not real life.

I don't read much "horror" fiction, but I do write (and often read) gritty suspense/thriller fiction in which very bad things happen to people. Enormous numbers of people, many of them women, read this type of fiction. I suggest (I'm not the first to do so) that one of the reasons they read it is because in most of these novels, the killer (male or female) gets punished in the end. In real life, murders often escape and run free for years. Examples abound with the serial killers who've murdered dozens of people without being caught.

I also believe that readers of romance fiction (mostly women) adore the genre because they experience very little romance in their lives. Ditto with romantic movies. I know a woman who saw Pretty Woman five times. Five times!! Some may disagree, but I think a fantasized image of a prostitute wooing and winning an obstreperous rich guy (who all along had a heart of gold but couldn't show it) is just as bad as a movie that depicts violence in a realistic way.

Do I ever have to turn away when I see violence on the screen? Yes, the cut off the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs. Couldn't handle that one. But the movie itself was utterly fascinating, a crime as told and seen through the viewpoints of the several criminals.




What are "cozies"?
Descendants of the Agatha Christie mysteries with tea-drinking, knitting old ladies solving murders committed in pleasant, small towns or villages. Also cat mysteries and anything that involves a special profession usually associated with women: i.e. catering, hairdressing, antiquing, crafts, gardening, etc. The devil's advocate suggests instead a hooker as a detective.
Thanks, I.J.


CrimeSpace Google Search

© 2024   Created by Daniel Hatadi.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service