I recently had the good fortune to read two very similar and excellent mysteries, “Front Page Fatality” by Lyn Dee Walker which was nominated for the prestigious Agatha Award for Best first Novel and “The Good Cop” by Brad Parks which won the Lefty Award and the Shamus Award. One is considered a cozy and the other is just a regular mystery. While I was reading them, I kept asking myself what the difference was that separated the two. Both of these books blur the lines a little.
First impressions. Look at the cover of the book. I could write a whole article on book covers. I think it sets the tone of a book and tells the reader quite a bit. It frustrates me when the cover is not in keeping with the book and on occasion I confess to having gone off on a cover in a review. Both books here had good covers for their stories.
“Front Page Fatality” has a cute (in the best sense) image with red high heels set on a stack of newspapers. Some of the fonts used are cursive and the colors are light.
“The Good Cop” is dark and brooding. A policeman dominates the cover. His eyes are in the shadow and the mouth is non-expressive. The dominate color is charcoal. The font is also straightforward.
“Front Page Fatality” screams cozy. Often the title is a play on words, which is in keeping with the intellectual puzzle inside. Frequently there is a pattern to the titles in a series. ‘The Good Cop’ isn’t screaming scary words at me, but it definitely isn’t conveying something cute or clever.
Cozy mysteries are booming. The majority of cozy mystery readers are intelligent women looking for a fun read that engages the mind. That isn’t to say that men don’t read them as well. Whereas the straight up mystery is read by everyone, but I suspect favor the male audience slightly.
While the majority of cozy mystery readers are women, the majority of cozy authors are women as well. In fact I know of a circumstance where a male writer uses a female pseudonym when he writes cozy mysteries. It helps his sales.
Obviously in this case, “Front Page Fatality” is written by a woman, Lyn Dee Walker and “One Good Cop” is written by a man, Brad Parks.
Quite often the cozy mystery is part of a series. Cozy mysteries are my favorite type of mystery, so I don’t mean this despairingly when I say that I often think of good cozies as TV shows. These are the shows that you want to watch every week, like “Murder She Wrote.” I think of the standard mystery as possibly a standalone movie. Think Grisham’s “The Firm”. However, both groups do have series, I suspect sales has a great deal to do with this.
In this case, “Front Page Fatality,” is the first book in a planned series. “The Good Cop” is the fourth in the series.
In a cozy, the protagonist is an amateur sleuth. Think Jessica Fletcher or Miss Marple. They have hundreds of different occupations, but they aren’t Policeman, Private Eyes, Medical Examiners or Lawyers. Most, but not all, protagonists in a cozy are women. While they usually have flaws, they are likable and intelligent characters. Often they have husbands, boyfriends or friends who have access to police information. The main character has to be likable or you don’t want to read the next book in the series.
In the case of both of these books, the protagonist is a journalist.
In “Front Page Fatality” the protagonist is a woman, Nichelle Clarke, a relatively young reporter who has impressed her boss and is working to get a Pulitzer Prize.
In “The Good Cop” the main character is Carter Ross, a more experienced reporter who also has his eye on getting a Pulitzer Prize.
I think this is one of those niche fields that can easily go either way. I have read other cozy mysteries featuring cozy reporters. Two of my favorite cozy series feature women in newspapers: Sarah Strohmeyer’s Bubble series and Mary Daheim’s Alpine series. Likewise, there is precedence for the traditional reporter, often in true mysteries.
The traditional setting for a cozy is a small town. Again think “Murder She Wrote” and Cabot Cove. However, I’ve discovered that often the cozy is set in desirable areas as well. When I’m reading a cozy, I often think, I would like to visit that place.
“Front Page Fatality” takes place in Richmond, Virginia and while it isn’t D.C., I would hardly consider it a small town.
“The Good Cop” is set in Newark, New Jersey and much of the setting is in the slums of Newark.
Definitely the darker setting is Newark, especially the specific location in Newark. I’m definitely not putting the location in “The Good Cop” on my vacation wish list.
I’m amazed at the similarity of the plot of both of these books. This is a slight spoiler alert, skip this section if you don’t want to know the plot and the villain. However, most people can figure out the plot and suspect the villain in the first few chapters of either book.
In “Front Page Fatality” the police are fronting a drug ring.
In “The Good Cop” the police are fronting a guns for sale ring.
I really don’t see the plot differing too much for cozy mysteries and regular mysteries, however I never see spy or espionage in cozy mysteries.
I’ve read that cozy mysteries tend to be fast-paced, with several twists and turns. People read them because of the intellectual puzzle to be solved. For my part, I think most good mysteries should be written like this. I don’t think this separates the genres. Both these books were fast paced reads with good plots with twists and turns.
Sex, Wild Behavior, Language and Violence
Cozy mysteries are generally speaking ‘G’ or at least ‘PG’ rated. There is often romance involved, but it is not graphic. While you can’t have a murder without some violence, much of the cringe worthy violence is kept off the page. You definitely don’t read about torture. Often the person getting killed is someone you don’t like, at least the first people killed.
Almost always the protagonist in a cozy gets in over her head and gets kidnapped or shot at. Since the genre has gotten a little bit tougher, you may sometimes see a mild curse word, but the language is kept pretty PG.
In “Front Page Fatality” the protagonist does have a budding love interest and an old love interest. However, neither are graphic, not even a kiss is involved.
The first person killed in “Front Page Fatality” is a drug dealer.
The protagonist does get in over her head in the end.
In “The Good Cop” the protagonist has two love interests, with the protagonist not practicing sexual monogamy. This is a definite no-no in a cozy. The protagonists attends a somewhat wild absinthe party and breaks into a morgue at night. There is no foul language.
The first person killed in “The Good Cop” is the good cop.
The protagonist does get in over his head in the end.
Normally the tone of the cozy is relatively light sometimes humorous, this is rare to see in a regular mystery.
“Front Page Fatality” has its light moments however I wouldn’t really consider it a funny mystery.
Brad Parks’ previous book in this series “The Girl Next Door” has been nominated for a Lefty Award. This is an annual award given to the best humorous mystery. When I was asked to read this book by Parks, I jumped at the chance thinking it was a funny, cozy mystery. The protagonist has a quirky sense of humor. I bet the author does too. This somewhat plays against type, but the story isn’t funny, although the protagonist gives the reader many light hearted moments.
Okay this doesn’t have anything to do with being cozy or not, just a fun similarity between the books.
“Front Page Fatality” page 95 “Clipboards are the most commanding of office supplies, instantly lending an air of authority to anyone carrying them.
“The Good Cop” page 279 “I only wished I had brought a clipboard along. A white man looks that much more convincing with a clipboard.”
I think a clipboard is on my purchasing list. I never knew they had such power in either genre.
This is a great comparison read between two similar stories from different sub-genres of mysteries. I’d love to encourage you to read both. Then I would like to read your impressions.
In accordance with FTC guidelines for reviewers, I would like to clarify that both books were provided to me by the publisher free of charge. I am not compensated by the author or publisher for my review. All they expect is an honest review of the work.