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Get 'Cozy' for a Good Read This Winter

Never hear of cozies? They're a crime fiction genre that's both tame and tantalizing

The temperature is dropping, the wind is kicking up and you have hot cocoa on the stove — an ideal time for tucking into a cozy.

Cozies are a genre of crime fiction, sometimes known as traditional mysteries, beloved by fans from 18 to 80. You, the reader, have a perch on the shoulder of the (usually) amateur, (often) female sleuth for a bird's-eye view of an intriguing murder and can solve the crime in lockstep or before. What you won't find are explicit blood and guts, or adult themes. Murder and sex (if anyone is having any) occur off the page. And as with many good mysteries, murder is merely an excuse to explore the reasons ordinary human beings do what they do.

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Curl up with a cozy read.

Cozy mysteries are suspenseful and will keep you on the edge of you seat. — Amy White & Al Petteway/Getty Images

Think Agatha Christie's beloved spinster, Miss Marple.

Though cozies have been around in England since the early 1900s, modern cozies are creatively pushing the boundaries of the genre; you might even find — gasp! — a few curse words. Today's cozies tend to revolve around a popular theme or hobby. Among them are felines (cats help their retired owner solve mysteries in Rita Mae Brown's Mrs. Murphy series), crafts (Maggie Sefton offers patterns that her sleuth knitter and her knitting group use), food and drink (Diane Mott Davidson includes recipes in her food-based series and Cleo Coyle sets her mysteries around a landmark coffee shop in Greenwich Village) and challenges (Parnell Hall makes her sleuth, aka The Puzzle Lady, and the reader solve crosswords, sudokus and KenKens in order to solve the crime).

A sleuth's profession or station in life may also provide a clever hook. Alexander McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe is Botswana's first and only female investigator; her work at the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency illuminates human frailty as much as solves mysteries. The sleuth in Nancy Atherton's Aunt Dimity series must communicate with her well-to-do niece to nab killers, since she, herself, is actually dead.

If you haven't picked up a good cozy since Christie's The Mirror Crack'd, consider these just-published page-turners for the chilly season:

Next: Inspector Gamache and other "cozy" characters you'll love. »

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