Escapism for a social justice multiclasser.
December 2, 2016 1:16 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend well-written cozy mysteries that won't make me angry.

Things that make me angry: misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Semitism, ableism including mentally ill people always being the murderer, graphic violence.

Notably, I just ragequit MC Beaton for good after going through two books of Agatha Raisin, which I turned to in a round of well, maybe the writing will be better and maybe her lady detective will be better than Hamish Macbeth. Nope, it's a recap of the ye olde misogyny/fatphobia/racism/homophobia/low-key WOMEN JUST WANNA TRAP A MAN INTO MARRIAGE bullshit, with an extra layer of the author describing the one non-white character's "almond-shaped" eyes at every opportunity.

I know about, or have worked through:
  • Christie/Allingham/Marsh/Sayer/Wentworth/Heyer and the other Golden Age greats
  • Kerry Greenwood/Corinna Chapman and Phryne Fisher
  • Louise Penny/Armand Gamache
  • Robert von Gulik/Judge Dee
  • Ellis Peters/Brother Cadfael
  • Peter Tremayne/Sister Fidelma
  • Kareem Abdul Jabbar/Mycroft Holmes
  • Everything in the genre that Alexander McCall Smith has written
  • Ben Aaronovitch/Rivers of London, which aren't classic cozies, but have great writing, good mysteries, and the kind of social justice-friendly content I love
Bonus points for books not written by white people. Bonus points for main characters who aren't straight white cis people. Bonus if there isn't much WILL THEY WON'T THEY heteronormative romance.
posted by joyceanmachine to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a fan of Elly Griffiths Ruth Galloway series. There's a little bit of will they won't they but I find it tolerable.

I've been reading Rachel Howzell Hall's Elouise Norton series. There's plenty of hetero-normative faff but it checks off other boxes.

You also might want to try Nicola Griffiths Aud Torvingen series.

I also like Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone series - but they do feel a bit dated now. Pretty heteronormative.
posted by rdnnyc at 1:33 PM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Dana Stabenow/Kate Shugak (Native Alaskan private detective)
Laurie R. King/Kate Martinelli (lesbian SFPD cop)
Gay Hendricks/Tenzing Norbu (Tibetan ex-monk private detective in LA)
Eliot Pattison/Inspector Shan Tao Yun (Chinese private detective in China and Tibet)
Elizabeth Gunn/Jake Hines (Mixed-race cop in Minnesota)
posted by Daily Alice at 2:42 PM on December 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Funny you should ask. I just started The Unquiet Dead, by Ausma Zehanat Khan. The writer is a British-born Canadian Muslim woman, and her main detective is an observant Muslim man, who is teamed with a white woman. So far (about 1/3 of the way through), it's pretty good.

I don't know for sure that it's "cozy." Not sure I know exactly what that means, really. And the victim looks to be a pretty bad person. This is also the only mystery that I've ever read that has end notes citing to testimony of genocide victims before the UN International Court. The Bosnian genocide is basically a character in the book. So that may mean that it's not cozy.

This is a first novel, and I'm happy with it so far. Khan clearly has an agenda in this book, but she also has published a second book with these detectives, and another one is supposed to be published in February, so that may ease off a bit.
posted by janey47 at 2:44 PM on December 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Re-reading the question, I'll add that none of my recommendations are classically "cozy" but they are not too gory.
posted by Daily Alice at 2:45 PM on December 2, 2016

The Sirens Sang of Murder, by Sarah Caudwell.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:48 PM on December 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

The late, great Sarah Caudwell's Hilary Tamar series! Puzzle-y and cozy and refreshingly free of -isms, and also very witty and funny. Thus Was Adonis Murdered is the first; there are four books, and they're all awesome. The gender of the main character is not identified, but it's not handled in an offensive, mocking, or cloying/wink-wink way. I thought the technique really allowed the main character to breathe outside the restrictions of gendered stereotypes and expectations--and I felt like I could breathe better than I usually could in mysteries (like, seriously, why are cozy mysteries full of so much sexism??). They're some of the more bisexual-normative books I've read, especially the first book, where not assuming binary sexuality was just how people functioned.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 2:48 PM on December 2, 2016 [8 favorites]

Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks series

Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum series

I really liked Benedict Jack's Alex Verus' books

Also Tarquin Halls Vish Puri series
posted by Ftsqg at 3:07 PM on December 2, 2016

I love this question and have been looking for the same thing myself. I read about two million cozy mysteries a year and am having an increasingly hard time stomaching most of them for the same reasons you mention.

I stumbled upon Amy Vansant's "Pineapple" series recently and just loved it. She ticks all the boxes you mention except that the main character is white (so is the author).
posted by _Mona_ at 3:08 PM on December 2, 2016

In line with Janey47's suggestion, what about the Yashim series? It's set in the late Ottoman empire and follows a Turkish* bisexual eunuch detective and features a cast of mostly non-white, non-Christian, and non-cis/het characters who largely use their various complicated/"outsider" social statuses to discover the facts of whatever case. The sole white guy who is a recurring character is a stateless white guy living in a non-white, non-Christian world which is suspicious of European ideals, so that's an interesting reversal.

*Welllllll, it's complicated, insofar as the Ottoman Empire predates the modern ethnically oriented nation state, but I'm pretty sure that in modern times Yashim would be considered a Turk even though I believe his backstory is that he was born in what is now either Greece or somewhere in the Balkans.
posted by Sara C. at 3:15 PM on December 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Denise Mina is a Scottish mystery writer who writes great page turners that also explore issues of class, gender, race/ethnicity and mental illness (in the main characters, not the murderers) through fully developed characters. I highly recommend everything she has written but think you might particularly like the Garnet Hill series.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 3:47 PM on December 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

Of the three main characters in Transformed by Suzanne Falter & Jack Harvey, one is a trans man and one is a recently-widowed lesbian cop. There's a second book, but I haven't read it yet and so don't know whether I'd recommend it.
posted by Lexica at 4:12 PM on December 2, 2016

Seconding Denise Mina. She is my favorite of favorites. I have one book left that I haven't read and I'm saving it for an emergency.
posted by janey47 at 4:27 PM on December 2, 2016

I can tell you to avoid P. D. James in your state of mind, and shun Josephine Tey as though she was a lady on the subway trying to squirt ketchup on you.
posted by Hypatia at 4:46 PM on December 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Cleo Coyle's coffeeshop mysteries are cozies and I think tick your boxes. There's also an older series by Howard Fast with a second generation Japanese-American police detective in 1950s LA, the Masao Masuto books that is usually available in libraries, which I found surprisingly good and thoughtful, later finding out that the author was immersed in the community through his Zen studies and a diehard left-wing socialist.

I feel you about those Beaton books. I'm still furious with Elizabeth George, but Beaton's relentless flogging to death of the same tropes and the pettiness! Ah, Hamish. Move to Edinburgh and find a nice bloke. Agatha, fall into a ditch.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:14 PM on December 2, 2016

My partner describes Donna Andrews as "not perfect but pretty good" from an SJ perspective, and she likes most of the books with bird puns in the title a lot.
posted by rivenwanderer at 1:18 PM on December 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

She also says "Jasper Fforde's Nursery series which aren't kids books despite the name".
posted by rivenwanderer at 1:21 PM on December 3, 2016

I recently read A Kind of Grief by A. D. Scott and found it rather good on the points you mention. I expect the other books in that series are similar.

The Amelia Peabody novels by Elizabeth Peters fit most of your criteria as well, though they do have a lot of "WILL THEY WON'T THEY heteronormative romance." Peabody is a bit like Phryne Fisher, but with a parasol and in Egypt.

And I finally found the books that first came to mind - Alan C. Bradley's Flavia de Luce novels, which follow a bright, eccentric 11-year-old sleuth, youngest daughter of a titled British family that has fallen on hard times. Not much diversity in the cast, but the protagonist has the right mix of precociousness and naiveté to question the social norms and prejudices that surround her (or simply find them absurd). She's also an accomplished amateur chemist and entertaining narrator.
posted by sibilatorix at 9:06 PM on December 3, 2016

The Cormoran Strike novels by J. K. Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.
posted by riddley at 9:19 PM on December 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Martha Grimes Richard Jury series.
posted by lazydog at 8:38 PM on December 4, 2016

You might enjoy the Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime. It's short stories or excerpts from longer books featuring women detectives, written between 1864 and 1915. Given the age, they don't totally lack undesirable elements, but within that context they're delightfully progressive.
posted by sepviva at 8:51 PM on December 4, 2016

Thanks so much, everyone. I'm super excited to dig into these and kick MC Beaton to the curb once and for all. First up, I think, are the Denise Mina books, but I'm super-eager to get to the Yashim books. If only my local library carried them in ebook form!

For anybody interested, I started a blog about my many opinions.
posted by joyceanmachine at 1:50 PM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

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