Fresh meaning not at all the same old, same old, like a Miss Marple, with its sedentary armchair detective, homey setting, and unpleasant victims, thus leaving the reader free to focus on the puzzle. At the outset, the sleuth should be engaging, the setting and circumstances intriguing, the victim somehow worthy of the quest, etc. But that’s just for starters.
For example, take my transatlantic tale centering on two sister villages located on both sides of “the pond”. If I had looked at bestselling author Louise Penny’s Still Life more closely, I wouldn’t have been left to underscore the overview. Penny’s story starts off with the demise of Miss Jane Neal, a seventy-six-year-old spinster, walking in the woods by the remote village of Three Pines on the Quebec border. The narrative immediately pulls back as we get to know Miss Jane’s special world, meet her neighbors and become acquainted with her relationships. Moreover, a flashback takes us to a confrontation over her “Still Life” painting.
In other words, as my assigned Australian editor insisted, you can’t just get on with it. The circumstances surrounding my rambling tour guide’s venture had to be fully established. The demise of Emily’s beloved mentor and father figure was fine as a catalyst, but what’s the underpinning? Where are we? What is Emily’s Connecticut village like during the leaf-peeper season? What led to her mentor’s dreadful fall? How does she feel about the three siblings she’s slated to guide across the pond now that her life has been turned topsy-turvy?
Next, segue to the second pass or what my editor calls “the nitty gritty.” Anything and everything that might give the reader pause has to be dealt with. Why is Emily meeting Harriet (a person of interest and Emil’s chief client) in Bath of all places? How did Harriet’s testy note wind up in the rose garden in Penmead? What is Emily’s prior experience venturing into the foggy, mist-sodden moors? And on and on it goes through the whole narrative.
As I put aside my hard won sense of drive and pace, there’s no telling what I’ll be up against next. For a writer of crime fiction, the cozy is apt to seem like a foreign country. They do things differently there.