It’s Not Always a Mystery – But it’s Always a Puzzle! by Valerie Burns

Debra, thanks for inviting me to “It’s Not Always a Mystery.”

 I’ve loved mysteries since I read my first Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew books many moons ago. When I picked up my first Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Akroyd, I fell head over heels in love. I jumped into the deep end of the cozy mystery world and never looked back. What is it about cozies? Good question.

First, what’s a cozy mystery? Cozies are a subgenre of crime fiction. These books typically feature a female sleuth who is solving a crime. Think Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote. Cozies are usually set in a small town (although this is changing). They don’t have graphic violence, explicit sex, or bad words. Seriously, can you imagine J.B. Fletcher dropping the F-bomb? Me either. Typically, cozies are lighter and are often themed. There are culinary cozies, bookshop cozies, library cozies, cat cozies, dog cozies, and pretty much any theme you can imagine. But, the heart of a cozy, just like all crime fiction, is the puzzle. A crime is committed, and our sleuth needs to sift through the clues and red herrings (false clues) to figure out Whodunit.

As an avid reader and mystery lover, I loved pitting my wits against that of the sleuth to figure out Whodunit. When I eventually decided to try my hand at writing a cozy mystery, I didn’t realize that there were rules that the cozy mystery author is expected to follow. What rules? Well, the most important rule is that the author must PLAY FAIR WITH THE READER. What does that mean? It means, all clues must be revealed. Not only must all clues be revealed, but the clues must be revealed to the reader at the same time that the sleuth discovers it. No finding an important clue in chapter two and holding it back until the big reveal at the end of the book. Nope. That’s not playing fair.

Another important rule that are unique to cozies is that in cozy mysteries, JUSTICE MUST PREVAIL. Does that mean that the killer will always be caught and punished? Usually, but not necessarily. Justice may mean that the killer goes free. I realize that may be hard to accept, but I recently saw an episode of Murder, She Wrote where the killer was a dog who had been trained to push a button that caused the death of the bad guy. Should the dog be punished? I think not. Or, the ending of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. No spoilers, but justice isn’t always black and white. Sometimes, there’s a lot of grey. Of course, these are extreme examples, but you get the picture.

So, if you like solving puzzles, sorting real clues from red herrings, and figuring out Whodunit, chances are good that you’ll enjoy a cozy mystery. In fact, I just might know a few cozy mystery authors that you might enjoy reading.



With small town New Bison’s Spring Festival just around the corner, the pressure is on Maddy to continue her late great-aunt Octavia’s legacy. That means scoring the top prize and transforming Baby Cakes into Southwest Michigan’s must-visit bakery, even though her inexperience in the kitchen brings nightmares of humiliating tagged photos and scathing reviews.

There’s another reason for lost beauty sleep. A second bakery is opening in town under the ownership of CJ Davenport, a shrewd investor with a reputation for sabotaging anyone who gets in his way. And savvy, flashy Maddy tops his list. It’s a sticky spot to be in—more so when Davenport turns up dead with a Baby Cakes’ knife stuck in his back.

Maddy’s whole life just went from #thriving to barely surviving. Now, supported by the crafty Baker Street Irregulars and her new boyfriend, she must find the courage to face off against a killer who could very well get her name trending for the first and last time . . .

Buy Links: Amazon, Nook, Bookshop


Valerie (V.M.) Burns is an Agatha Anthony, and Edgar Award-nominated author. In addition to the Baker Street Mystery, she is also the author of the Mystery Bookshop, Dog Club, RJ Franklin, and the upcoming, Bailey the Bloodhound Mystery series writing as Kallie E. Benjamin. Valerie is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Color, Mystery Writers of America, and Dog Writers of America. She is also an adjunct professor in the Writing Popular Fiction Program at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA. Born and raised in northwestern Indiana, Valerie now lives in Northern Georgia with her two poodles. Readers can keep up with new releases by following her on social media.

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7 thoughts on “It’s Not Always a Mystery – But it’s Always a Puzzle! by Valerie Burns”

  1. It’s funny how when we pick up the pen (so to speak) to WRITE a mystery, we become conscious of what all good mysteries must have in a way that previously was only hazily present in our awareness as we READ them. We grasp ‘playing fair.’ having felt cheated a time or two when the author had not done so. We endeavor to create what we enjoyed. Thanks, Valerie, for deepening my reflections on this important aspect of writing with this clear, concise, and thought-provoking post.

    1. Pamela,
      Thanks for stopping by. I fully agree that once you begin writing, you never read in the same way again. Things that you might have skimmed over as “not being fair” or “not working” stick out.

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