I’m so delighted to feature Lesley A. Diehl’s guest essay on my blog today. She not only talks about Spike, the special cat in her new Maddie Sharp mystery series, but has such inciteful things to say about the appeal of cozy mysteries.
Finally, a Cat!
by Lesley A. Diehl
I have been writing cozy mysteries for about 15 years and have had cats in my life since I was a child, but I’ve never combined my writing with my love of cats. When I first began to read cozy mysteries, I noticed there were some common threads running through them. At that time, dogs figured largely as the favored pet of the protagonist. Also, protagonists often owned small businesses such as a bookstore, café, or craft shop or ran a bed and breakfast which they sometimes inherited from a relative, or they left the big city for various reasons to settle in a small village or to return to their hometown. In recent years, cozy mysteries sometimes focus on food and include recipes.
Writing a dog or sometimes a cat into the mystery gave the reader a sense that the protagonist was a loving and generous person, one with which the reader could identify and cheer on through the difficulties of solving a murder and getting herself in and out of tight spots. Self-sufficiency and the willingness to take a risk in business made the protagonist, who in her past may have been dependent upon another individual, a spouse, other relative or business partner, a person willing to strike out on her own, courageous in spite of the odds that might be against her.
Regardless of which path the writer took, the gumption to strike out on her own emotionally or professionally or some of both, the cozy mystery made for reading that involved the reader’s emotions as well as presenting us with the intellectual challenge of solving the crime alongside the protagonist. In a world which has become increasingly fraught with economic, personal and environmental crises, the cozy mystery provides the reader with a feeling of justice delivered as well as escape from the negativity of the world surrounding us. We need cozy mysteries more than ever. And it is need for connection to a friendly world that led me to incorporate, finally, a cat into my new cozy mystery series, the Maddie Sharp Mysteries.
Yet, ironically, the cozy mystery brings those awful problems such as spousal abuse or environmental catastrophes into the reader’s living room. How? By setting the mystery in a small community and creating characters that feel like we know them or have met them or would like to meet them. If a cozy mystery is escapism, then how is this getting away from life’s problems? While the problems are there, the cozy mystery puts the solution to murder, for example, into the hands of a protagonist we have come to know in the book almost as well as we know our own friends. And so, we think, this person, not unlike me, has efficacy in her world. I can have that, too.
So back to the cat who finally appears in the first book of the Maddie Sharps mysteries. The appearance of the cat and of a female amateur sleuth of over seventy years of age accomplish the same end: they are both actors, active, not passive, in identifying a killer and capturing the criminal. I wanted the cat not to just be in the story as a beloved pet, but I wanted him to be somehow involved in solving the crime. How can a cat do that? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out what a truly unique cat Spike is. He has the ability to tell good people from bad and he has a superb sense of timing. As for Maddie, she may be thought of as a little old lady, but she is more than that. She uncovers aspects of herself she never envisioned, love with a younger man (not too much younger, of course), a curious mind well-suited for identifying a killer, and a new friend, Jane. How many of us seniors think our lives will never change, that nothing novel will happen in our future? After over seven decades of living, Maddie feels as if life is just beginning, and she’s willing to share it with her furry companion, Spike the cat. Her heart is filled with yellow fur, a man she adores and an unquenchable thirst for sleuthing. There will be more adventures to follow. My website: www.lesleyadiehl.com.
Cows, Lesley learned growing up on a farm, have a twisted sense of humor. They chased her when she went to the field to herd them in for milking, and one ate the lovely red mitten her grandmother knitted for her. Determining that agriculture wasn’t a good career choice, instead she uses her country roots and her training as a psychologist to concoct stories designed to make people laugh in the face of murder. “A good chuckle,” says Lesley,” keeps us emotionally well-oiled long into our old age.” She is the author of several cozy mystery series and numerous short stories. Go to her webpage to find out more: www.lesleyadiehl.com.
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