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Claire Coughlan

Cosy up: escapist reads for every armchair detective

Think Knives Out and Only Murders in the Building rather than anything gruesome or terrifying.

– Hannah Todd, C.L. Miller’s Agent

Richard Osman used to be known as that nice bloke off the telly. Now, with three novels in the record-breaking Thursday Murder Club series under his belt, he’s quite simply a literary phenomenon. The series, which falls neatly into the ‘cosy’ end of the crime fiction spectrum, is a bout a group of retirees who solve murders together. The third instalment, The Bullet That Missed, published last month by Penguin, sold 127,743 copies in its first week on sale.

And cosy crime continues to be one of the hottest literary trends around if the recent Frankfurt Book Fair is anything to go by. Pan MacMillan signed debut author C.L. Miller for The Antique Hunter’s Guide to Murder. The book, which is described by acquiring publisher Francesca Pathak as “a joyous crime caper that allows the reader to be an armchair detective,” was a hot title at Frankfurt.

It will be published in 2024, and is about Freya, a young woman who solves a murder with her aunt on an antique enthusiasts’ weekend at a manor house.

Cara Miller, who writes as C.L. Miller, has insider’s access to the world of antiques, as her mother is Judith Miller, an antiques expert on the BBC programme The Antiques Roadshow. It was a chance remark by a friend that provided the seed of inspiration for the book, says Clara.

“Just before lockdown I moved to a small medieval village in Dedham Vale, Suffolk, and a local friend quipped ‘it’s all very Midsomer Murders in your village.’ As most writers will know, sometimes it just takes a very small comment to get the cogs turning,” she says.

Although Irish author Andrea Carter, who has published five novels in the Inishown Mysteries series, doesn’t strictly write cosy crime, she incorporates elements of the genre, such as setting her books in a small community with an amateur sleuth. “Setting is one of the most important elements of my books,” she says. “I enjoy playing with the contrast between drama and beauty of Inishowen and the terrible things I make happen there.

“I’ve always liked the structure of a traditional detective novel and writing about a closed circle of suspects has an appeal for me. A small community is often a microcosm of the wider world.”

But what exactly is cosy crime? C.L. Miller’s agent, Hannah Todd at London’s Madeleine Milburn, says cosy crime novels tend to leave violence firmly off the page. “Think Knives Out and Only Murders in the Building rather than anything gruesome,” she says.

It’s often solved by unlikely heroes – OAPs, or in our case an antique hunter and her eccentric aunt. It’s a mystery that you can get lost in, without the horror of graphic violence or being tasked with reflecting on the ills of the world.”