The cozy mystery sub-genre is an important and too often overlooked corner of the crime fiction world. Anyone who reads them knows how difficult it is to craft and plot an effective one – maybe even harder than some of the other sub-genres. In my opinion, a cozy series needs a number of things in place in order for it to be successful. Since I think Sherry Harris’ From Beer to Eternity hits all those points, I will use it as an example here.
The first and most important thing is that the amateur sleuth needs to be both authentic and complex. Maybe those two things are sides of the same coin. Chloe Jackson is a character readers immediately care about. With her sudden move from Chicago to Florida and her need to acquaint herself with her new surroundings, we get a sense of who she is very quickly, but we are also aware that there are many layers to her that will need to be exposed over time. It is vital that these future developments reinforce the personality of Chloe as we now know it to be OR that they trigger gradual growth in her moving forward. It also helps that Chloe is a very likable heroine, making it easier for the reader to root for her.
The second thing is a setting that is unique and fascinating. One of these without the other is likely to fall short for me as a reader. In From Beer to Eternity we are welcomed to the so-called Redneck Rivera area of the Florida Panhandle. I don’t think anyone is going to argue that Florida in general is a unique place with eccentric residents, but this particular area is one that many are not familiar with and it ups the quirk quotient. As for fascinating, for me, the history of the region alone opens many avenues of exploration, but it is the bringing together of a disparate population (especially in terms of economic diversity) that is going lead to endless conflict keeping the series fueled for books to come.
The third very important element that must be in place is a believable crime and a realistic reason for the sleuth to become involved. When a customer at the Sea Glass Saloon is found murdered outside the bar, it certainly feels inevitable, given his many conflicts with residents and certainly the method of murder seems credible enough. Chloe’s involvement might have been a stretch if she jumped in to investigate solely because she was working at the Saloon, but couple that with her promise to look after her deceased best friend’s Grandmother and it becomes a more plausible spur to action. A later development in regards to the ownership of the Saloon only further entangles Chloe with its fate.
A fourth and final element that ensures a long-lasting series is a bevy of side-kicks and supporting cast. Sherry Harris populates Emerald Cove with a bounty of side characters. In the essence of disclosure, I should say that I know from the author that a few of the characters are loosely inspired by myself and my husband – and one incident in particular (on the Redneck Rollercoaster) is lifted straight from an actual event that occurred to me – so I am probably not unbiased here. But I think any reader who meets this cast of characters will see that not only are many in place for future developments in the series, but that there is plenty of room for additional players to be introduced with each subsequent novel.
Some other trademarks of the cozy mystery genre are also represented here: a potential love interest or two, secondary storylines that are tangential to the main case, and a relatively happy ending that most certainly solves the case at hand and ties things up in a nice bow. From Beer To Eternity is quite funny, with many laugh-out-loud moments that acknowledge the character’s imperfections while also celebrating their heart and soul.
This is just a sampling of the cozy mystery elements – the subgenre is not a monolith and much variance can be found when one begins to explore the joys of these “lighter reads.” Some readers may not need each of these elements, however, there is little doubt that cozy fans appreciate the formula and because of that most will come away satisfied after finishing Sherry Harris’ From Beer to Eternity.
Related: For a brief interview with Sherry Harris and a look at both Dru Ann Love’s and my review of this book, check out our YouTube episode dedicated to this launch of a new cozy series. Follow this link!