The (apparently) oxymoronic Anthology of Cozy-Noir

Cozy-noir? Cozy and noir?

Hmmm… certainly sounds like an oxymoronic pair of mystery sub-genres!

But maybe editor Andrew MacRae has something up his sleeve.

Has he managed to combine the two into a seamless whole? It was an intriguing enough possibility that I just had to find out—not that either sub-genre is among my favorites: I rarely read noir, and even more rarely read cozies. My question was what these 13 stories would turn to be like. Would it be seven in one category and six in the other? Or each of the 13 having some cozy aspects and some noir? Well, only one way to find out.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We should first look at the editor’s explanation of the apparently oxymoronic title. What’s going on here? MacRae explains:

Cozy-Noir embraces noir’s mood indigo, rain-slick streets, where underworlds and overlords do commerce and the PI plays the part of the reluctant knight errant. Happy endings are banished to the basement, while existential angst makes itself at home with a bottle of beer at the kitchen table.

So there’s the noir; what about the cozy?

At the same time, Cozy-Noir blends in strong-tasting elements from the kitchen where cozies are created. A well-defined sense of community, an interesting cast of characters, interesting location, while keeping the nastier bits of detective fiction, such as corpses of murder victims and the violence done, off page and out of sight.

Now that the editor has told us his objective, we can evaluate how well he has accomplished it. The verdict is: fairly well. The short story is a difficult format in the mystery genre, as the author needs enough time to establish all the goals described above, regardless of the sub-genre. It’s important to note that the peculiar combination of cozy and noir here is the objective of the editor, not of the authors. As far as I can tell, they just thought they were writing mysteries. A few are readily identified as either cozy or noir, but not both. Most are indeed some sort of combination, and most are pretty good—not memorable, but at least “well-crafted,” as the publisher’s description on the cover claims. Only a couple are first-rate, but it would be hard to ask for more.

Categories: Books