It was a pleasure to find myself moderating a Crimefest panel featuring some of my favourite writers. From the left it is Christopher Fowler, me, Jill Paton Walsh, Helen Smith, and Martin Walker. The subject was ‘The Contemporary Cosy: Is there Life Left in the Golden Age?’ and I asked everyone if they considered themselves to be a ‘cosy’ writer and if there is even something a little perjorative about the label? I’m not altogether happy myself to be classified in that way. It makes me feel like a maiden aunt. I hope there is a bit more edge than that to my writing.
Martin Walker’s novels feature Bruno the chief of police in a small town in the Perigord region of France and there is something hugely reassuring about the country setting, and the wonderful descriptions of food. But he’s not afraid to tackle contemporary issues. His new novel, Children of War, for instance, opens with an undercover Muslim cop is found dead.
Helen Smith’s witty novels, peopled by eccentrics, are, she told us, written purely to entertain – and they do. She avoids avoid sex, drugs and swearing altogether and in that respect is happy to be considered cosy.
Jill Paton Walsh is perhaps the closest of us all to the Golden Age as she was actually invited to finish a novel by Dorothy L. Sawyers, Thrones and Dominions, by Sawyer’s son. Her most recent novel, The Late Scholar, takes Harriet Vane and Peter Whimsey up to the 1950s. She wants to provide readers with an escape from mundane reality, but the restoration of moral order is important, too.
Christopher Fowler’s marvellous Bryant and May series have an element of the macabre, but part of the charm of his novels lies in the way they draw on the traditions of the Golden Age. His suggestion that ‘traditional mystery’ might be a better term than cosy is a good one.