I have lived in a small town [population 9,900] for a little over forty years. I’m used to people saying, “Oh, you’re from Illinois? What part of Chicago?” Despite this geographical impairment in peoples’ minds, a small, downstate town makes a great setting for a cozy mystery. Cozies are extremely popular and entire websites are dedicated to such books, often created in a series. The small town atmosphere is perfect for the backdrop of a story where an amateur sleuth—usually a woman—is drawn into a murder. Small towns have unique characteristics that add to the plot and atmosphere of such a genre. Their geographical landmarks and histories are only two of these characteristics.
Currently I’m working on a mystery and drawing on my experience of living in a small town. Here’s an example: Our small town, like many tiny places, has a square in the center with two main streets bisecting it. One, of course, is Main Street and the other is Broadway. Seriously, since I have lived in this town I’ve become quite aware that no one knows clearly how to maneuver through this square. And it isn’t really a square—it’s a circle with two lanes. So here is the way I used our square/circle in describing my imaginary town of Endurance:
The center of town with surrounding businesses and shops, the Square was more a circle than a square and no one knew exactly how to drive around it, so defensive driving was the local custom. This was particularly true since Danny Walker, after a few beers at Patsy’s Pub, decided to cruise the square multiple times in the wrong direction, taking out a fire hydrant and two signs for the Little People’s Daycare Center and Bert’s Collision Shop (‘You Scratch It, We Patch It.’) The only thing he appeared to have missed was the neon ‘Open’ sign for the Homestretch Funeral Home, but the hazy memory of seeing it go past several times probably contributed to his contrition once he sobered up.
And Danny was apprehended quite quickly because his neighbors saw the crime and reported it, and he was a known quantity at the small town police department. Believe me, this isn’t Los Angeles or New York.
My mystery has a female sleuth who is drawn reluctantly into a murder. She is not a detective or a crime solver by occupation; sometimes she is a book store owner, a teacher, a knitting club member, or a minister. In my book, the main character is a high school teacher who has recently retired and she is drawn into the first murder when she takes over the part-time newspaper job of a former colleague who is the victim of the murder. She has friends and former students who help her in various situations as she is slowly pulled into a darker part of the town that she never knew existed.
Lurking beneath the surface are old injuries, past grudges and grievances, and—of course—they often lead to murders most foul.