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Death in the Morning, by Sheila Radley

June 2, 2014

Felony of the Week: Death in the Morning, by Sheila Radley

Lo these many years ago, when we were getting ready to launch F&M, my friend Karen, a publishing-industry veteran, said “Of course, you’ll be doing neo-noir, right?” I said no. Her jaw dropped “You’re going to be publishing cozies?” she asked incredulously. “Not really,” I said. She was confused.

I understood both the confusion and the incredulity. In bookselling’s quick-and-dirty system of categorization, a mystery that isn’t hard-boiled is automatically assumed to be cozy. And cozies are automatically assumed to be badly written pap, essentially the literary equivalent of Peeps.

As you might expect, I have some thoughts on these assumptions, some of which you can read here, if you like. But the bottom line, for me, is that the hard-boiled/cozy divide doesn’t really serve anyone very well. Sure, there are people who only want to read books where the pet rabbit solves the crime, and there are other people who only want to read books that open with a bloodbath and go on to feature a cast of pimps and drug dealers getting bumped off in various hideous, graphically described ways. But as with politics, most people tend toward more of a middle ground, and it’s that audience that Felony & Mayhem wants to reach. The rabbit-folks will never like our books, nor will the bloodbath brigade, and we can live with that.

This arose because in thinking about cozies it occurred to me that we have very few books on our list that really fit the definition. The “Blotto and Twinks” books, by Simon Brett, and Len Tyler’s “Herring Seller” series may sneak under the cozy banner, if only because they’re terrifically funny, and one of the great “rules” of hard-boiled mysteries is NO FUNNY ALLOWED. (You might want to talk to George Pelecanos about that one. Or Don Winslow. Or Lawrence Block.) But because we’re focusing on Miss Marple at the moment – not sure why, we just felt like it – we wanted to offer a Felony of the Week that was as cozy as we get.

Death in the Morning, and the other “Inspector Quantrill” novels that we publish, by Sheila Radley, probably fit the bill. True, the protagonist is a cop, and cozies are “supposed” to stay firmly in the realm of amateur sleuths, but since he’s an Engish cop, and therefore doesn’t carry a gun, the hard-core hard-boiled types would probably say he doesn’t count. Besides, in all other respects, the Quantrill books fit the cozy mandate: They’re set in a little village, there is no graphic sex or violence, and the crime is very definitely presented as an aberration, a temporary disruption of what is otherwise a pleasant, ordered world. The emphasis is less on action – I don’t think Sheila Radley would recognize a car-chase if it bit her on the fender – than on the development and illumination of character: The slumping, middle-aged, Morse-like Quantrill, his preening new partner (who may be less of a jerk than he first appears), and a host of suspects, witnesses, and village folk who add as much to the pleasure of the book as they do to the plot.

Of course, there’s one respect in which the Quantrill books do NOT behave like “typical” cozies: They’re extremely well written. And this week, No. 1 is going cheap. Take a look at Death in the Morning. No, it’s not hard-boiled. There are no mean streets. But it’s a very far cry from Peeps.

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