by Triss Stein
Everyone who leaves a comment this weekend will be entered in a drawing for a free copy of Brooklyn Bones.
What is an urban cozy? Does it sound like an oxymoron , like “giant shrimp”? Walking down the mean streets…of St. Mary Mead?
I thought something was missing in the mystery universe. Stereotyping a bit here, but in general, there are cozies, which take place in villages or suburbs, often with amateur sleuths and a background of ordinary life, the direct descendants of Agatha Christie. They might be humorous, they might be serious. Then there are hard-boiled mysteries, which take place in gritty urban settings and are the direct descendents of the above quoted Chandler. That landscape does not have a home for characters (or readers!) who live in a big city but are not Philip Marlowe. Or Harry Bosch. Or Matt Scudder. Who do not even know anyone like Matt Scudder.
That would be me, and my friends and millions of other readers who live rather ordinary lives but do it in a big (bad?) city like New York. In fact, I live in Brooklyn, which could be a city all by itself, and would the 4th largest in the US. The life I live and see around me is mostly about work and family and home, local politics, neighborhood issues. School when my children were younger. Health. Doesn’t that sound a lot like small town life or suburban life? And anyone who believes there is not enough drama there to sustain a mystery series is not paying attention.
Personally, I like all kinds of books. I admire a well-written dark urban crime story, and sometimes I want to read something that is mostly froth, However, what I admire most is in between: a cozy-style set-up that has some resemblance to real life, real emotions, real conflicts in real settings, however peaceful those settings look from the outside.
In my real life, my first professional job was with the public library system in Brooklyn, They liked to move us around and not being a native New Yorker, I came to each new neighborhood with a clean mental slate. I observed, and what I observed was that they were a lot like small towns. Each neighborhood had its own atmosphere, history, quirks, and fears.
My question became, could I use that to write mysteries set in city neighborhoods, and half-way between too cozy and too hard-boiled? A domestic style background that includes real emotions and real conflicts? Why not try?
And why not start with my own neighborhood, Park Slope, Brooklyn, which has gone through a long cycle of change in the time I have been here?
Meet Erica Donato. She came from the Brooklyn world where people see no reason to go as far as Manhattan more than once a year. Now she lives in a different world, the gritty end of a gentrified Brooklyn of brownstones and yuppies. She is part way to a Ph.D in urban history She is the young single mother of a teen–age daughter whose childhood is much different from Erica’s own. Having made a journey that is short in miles but long in life changes, Erica is a bundle of contradictions.
In Brooklyn Bones, history comes barging into her modern life, when her daughter, helping a contractor in their house, finds a body hidden behind a fireplace.
Mother and daughter are both haunted by the fact that it was an unknown teen-age girl. Soon, their questions lead back to the ungentrified days, when the neighborhood was in the throes of change and the fabled age of Aquarius was turning very dark. They find interesting characters who hold pieces of that story, and dangerous ones who plan to keep it buried forever.
The next book includes Tiffany windows stolen from a historic cemetery and all of them will include some historical mysteries mixed up with modern ones. There is no end to Brooklyn’s stories. I even have a section of my web page called Brooklyn Fun Facts. http://trissstein.com/brooklyn-fun-facts/
Maybe I can make this urban cozy idea work.
Leave a comment this weekend and you'll be entered in a drawing for a free copy of Brooklyn Bones.
Writing is Brooklyn resident Triss Stein’s third career. The first was the job that inspired her new series: children’s librarian in a dozen sharply different Brooklyn communities. The second was in business research, in settings from a major global consulting firm to DC Comics. The author of two previous mystery novels, Triss has also published a number of short stories.