Bad cozy mysteries are educational

Over the weekend, the kids and I hit the library. I’ve had a hankering for a nice, fun cozy mystery, so I browsed around and picked up one at random, pretty much because of the cover. I won’t give out the name of this unfortunate book to keep from embarrassing the author, but it’s probably nobody you know.

I started reading, and … well, oh my. It’s pretty bad when the detective commits almost as many crimes as the killer (and victim, in this case).

The premise is that the heroine runs a restaurant (like most culinary cozy heroines). She has the bad luck to find her shady business partner dead in the kitchen.

At this point, most books would go into the crime scene, the clues, all that jazz.

Not this one. The heroine and her sister grab the body and drag it into the alley behind the restaurant “so as not to ruin business”.

I was astonished at this, and utterly certain that this would come back to bite them. So I kept reading in suspense.

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Apple pie via Wikimedia Commons

The heroine’s lowlife sister steals the dead man’s wallet and goes on a shopping spree with his credit card, leaving a plain trail for the police. This puts the spurs to the heroine to solve the mystery before the cops close in.

Continually astonished at the stupidity of these characters, I kept reading, waiting for the hammer to fall.

The body disappears, then reappears in a lake up the road. The investigation begins. The heroine is sweating bullets. The suspense mounts. Clues contradict each other and many secrets come to life as the suspects sing like canaries. Typical mystery stuff.

And then … the killer is found. And for some reason, the cops stop asking questions about who moved the body, and they quietly stop investigating the credit card fraud.

WHAT.

I got all the way to the end.

No consequences for the heroine and her sister’s asinine actions. The police just drop everything. Tampering with a crime scene is a felony! Credit card fraud is a felony! There should have been some kind of repercussions, but … just … nothing.

I got on Goodreads and found that a lot of people threw the book at the wall over this. I also learned that in book 2, the heroine steals the victim’s car. So … I think I’m done with this series. The detective can’t run around committing crimes and getting away with it. If she’d had to pay a fine, at LEAST, I would have bought it. But … just getting away scot-free?

Let that be a lesson to you, authors. Don’t let your characters get away with anything. Let them make bad choices, sure, but then let the consequences come back to bite them. Otherwise, readers will be throwing your book at the wall and saying nasty things on Goodreads.

Here are some other cozies you should read instead:


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Book review: Ferromancer

I’m in a historical fantasy group on Facebook, and they have recommended reading books each month. As I was browsing the list of books, Ferromancer caught my eye. I’ve seen the title here and there, but this time it appealed to me. Plus, it was only a buck. If I didn’t like it, I hadn’t been ripped off too badly. As it turned out, I enjoyed it so much, I immediately bought book 2.

Here’s the official summary:

Solutions aren’t always black and white—sometimes they come in shades of iron gray.

Captain Bridget “Briar” Rose wants for nothing. Each day is a new adventure, living the life she loves, running cargo on the Ohio & Erie Canal. That is, until her cousin decides to sell the family boat to finance a new business venture. He wants to build locomotives for the railroad—the very industry that could put the entire canal system out of business.

Not one to give up without a fight, Briar does a little snooping into her cousin’s new business partner. When she gets a sneak peek at the locomotive plans, she suspects that the man is either a genius, or a ferromancer—one of the dreaded metal mages of Europe’s industrial revolution.

Determined to reveal her suspicions, Briar takes the plans and heads for the newspaper office in Columbus, stealing the family boat in the process. Kidnapping her cousin’s handsome business partner wasn’t part of the plan, but when he shows up, demanding the return of his property, she can’t let him go. After all, if Briar can prove that the railroad is using ferromancy, she could save more than her boat. She could save her way of life.


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Cyborg by elGuaricho

I thought, hey, canal boats vs. railroads? I’ll give it a shot. I like reading about that period of history, anyway.

My review:

The historical setting of early 1800s America, coupled with the mythos of the magical ferromancers, is somehow massively pleasing. I enjoyed this stroll along the Erie Canal, seeing the conflict between the boatmen and the up and coming railroads. At the same time, the ferromancers are understated, intriguing, and often terrifying.

I’m not sure, even now, if I like Grayson or not. At least he’s not like some of the psycho, abusive heroes urban fantasy often features. I think it’s the potential of what he will become, down the line, that worries me. But then, saving him from himself is the aim of the story, isn’t it?

Briar is a spunky heroine without being the man-hating feminist stereotype that so many heroines fall into. She brawls with her fists, because that’s the culture of the boatmen, but she also abides by the rules. For instance, women only brawl with women, and men only brawl with men. Whenever she tries to take on a man, she’s hopelessly overpowered (especially when the men are ferromancers or their constructs, because you can’t beat someone who is made of iron).

The worldbuilding is explained so very briefly that I got to the end, still scratching my head about what had happened. But much is teased about the next book, namely, that Briar will find out more about the mysterious world of ferromancy. So I grabbed it. One way to really hook me is with good worldbuilding, and this book delivers … in tantalizing trickles.

Why villains need horror

I had a bit of a revelation a few months ago.

I don’t consider myself a horror writer. In fact, I can only read straight horror about once a year, at Halloween. And even then, I only do psychological thrillers. (Turn of the Screw is still excellent.)

Then somebody remarked about my fanfics, how the mind control aspects that one character dealt with ‘was such excellent horror’. It had never crossed my mind that this was horror. I was writing about the abuse of technology, and using it to make for some really excellent conflict.

Then I read Mike Duran’s Christian Horror: On the compatibility of a Christian Worldview and the Horror Genre. It was really eye-opening for me. Basically, horror is just sin, and the punishment of sin. In horror movies, there’s always a monster or a killer to overcome. Werewolves, zombies, and vampires are all staples of horror because they are a corruption of humanity.

While I don’t like to read a straight up horror novel, having some horror elements is like adding extra spice. You say you have a hero who animates zombies? Or a hero who is a werewolf and wrestling with his monstrous nature? Tell me more!

Kids books often have an element of horror. How about that moment in the first Harry Potter book when Quirrell unwraps his turban?

quirrell

Oh yeah, deliciously horrifying. Or how about any of N.D. Wilson’s villains? In Outlaws of Time, the bad guy has interdimensional graveyards where he buries the bodies of people he has killed multiple times, and he visits them often. It’s creepy and awful.

But then, the villain isn’t a threat without some kind of horror. Look at every Marvel villain ever made. There’s an element of horror to everything they do and represent. They want to do truly awful things on a large scale, which is why the heroes have to stop them.

In my last story, I essentially did the chest-bursting scene from Alien. It was to underscore just how bad the villain was. It also turned another villain into an anti-hero. It was gross and awful, but it was also a huge turning point. The horror was necessary to drive the characters into the final confrontation.

So, what happens is, I find myself subconsciously studying horror. Not because I enjoy it, so much, but because it’s how you make your villains scary. You don’t want to overdo it, of course, but … if your villain’s not scary, then he’s not a good villain.

My husband and I have been watching an anime called My Hero Academia. Basically it’s Hogwarts for teen superheroes. It has all the interpersonal conflicts and cool power combos that I love seeing from my superhero fiction.

But the villains, in particular, are outright horrifying. There’s this one guy who is covered in severed hands. If he touches you with one of them, he disintegrates you. But when he gets upset, he loses control and starts scratching his neck like a tweaker. He’s scary as heck and also weirdly fascinating. Again, the horror element comes into play. It’s both the frightening appearance, and the kind of threat he represents.

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So … I’ve been pondering my own relationship with the horror genre. I do enjoy many aspects of it. I mean, how else can you paint evil as evil? I don’t think I can ever write anything that is straight horror, because I tend to laugh at it. But a little bit used here and there? It becomes a delicious spice to add to the main dish of the rest of the story.