Aug. 22, 2022

The Sub-Genre of Gay Cozy Mysteries by Neil Plakcy

The Sub-Genre of Gay Cozy Mysteries by Neil Plakcy

My newest book, Being John Church, combines my interest in gay protagonists with my love of the cozy or traditional mystery. Here’s how I brought those two sub-genres together.

I’ve written gay mysteries and thrillers, where the protagonists are gay men solving meaningful crimes while investigating their own sexuality. My best-known series, the Mahu Investigations, begins with a closeted Honolulu homicide detective being dragged out of the closet during a dangerous case.

In twelve books so far, my protagonist, Kimo, has gone through many stages of the coming-out process. He begins to accept his sexuality in the second book, in which he begins to make gay friends. He falls in love, has his heart broken, then eventually settles down with a handsome firefighter who’s still in the closet.

As their relationship develops, Kimo continues to investigate crimes that help his personal growth. They are challenging cases that mirror Kimo’s life. Eventually he and his partner Mike take in a gay teen as a foster son, and then donate sperm to a lesbian couple. The most recent book in the series, Unruly Son, is a look at family life from many different perspectives.

At the same time, I’ve cultivated a different readership through my golden retriever series. These books are cozy mysteries, where all the blood, sex and bad language take place off stage. There’s humor to balance out the criminal action, especially provided by Rochester, a big, happy golden retriever much like his inspiration, my first golden Samwise.

It was important to me that Steve Levitan, the human protagonist, be a straight man. I wanted to escape the ghetto of gay mysteries, where the fans are fervent but fewer in number. I wanted to see if I could convincingly write a straight man, and I really wanted the dog and his detective abilities to be the center of the books.

I’ve been successful beyond my expectations, and I’m very grateful for the many fans who have written to me about their own dogs, and how much they enjoy Rochester’s antics. With thirteen books in that series, I wanted to try an experiment. Could I bring those two audiences together? Could I successfully write a more traditional mystery with a gay protagonist, and bring in my cozy audience?

As with the first in any series, Being John Church took a long time to achieve its current form. I began with a simple idea: suppose your lover died, and you realized everything he said was untrue? If he said his name was Pascal Montrouge, and that was a lie, when he said, “I love you,” was that a lie, too?

The comedian Iliza Shlesinger wrote and starred in the film Good on Paper with a similar premise, so I knew it was one that straight audiences could connect with. The work got much deeper than a standard mystery as my protagonist, Jeff Berman, rebuilds his life after discovering Pascal’s deceit. The heart of the book is a meditation on love, but at the same time there’s a propulsive mystery plot.

Who was Pascal, after all? And how, and why, did he die? The initial ruling of suicide comes into question the more Jeff researches, and the more he puts himself in danger.

The book doesn’t release until September 1, and even then it will take a while to discover whether it connects with readers in the same way as the Mahu Investigations and the Golden Retriever Mysteries. I hope it does, because I have an idea for Jeff’s next book, and I really want to write it!

Here are some of my favorite mysteries that fall into the cozy genre, with LGBT protagonists.

One of my favorite series featuring a gay amateur sleuth is R.D. Zimmerman’s Todd Mills series, including Outburst, Tribe, Innuendo and Hostage. Sadly, it appears that he was able to be more successful with historical mysteries under another name, so these are the only ones. In his case, as in others, he’s attracted to a closeted police detective, and part of the appeal of the series is following the romance.

Simon Kirby-Jones is a gay vampire living in a small town in England. The first book in the four-book series by Dean James is Posted to Death. Followed by Faked to Death, Decorated to Death, and Baked to Death.

Rob Osler came up with the word “quozy” to identify a queer cozy in promoting his mystery, Devil’s Chew Toy. Joe Cosentino has written a number of books which might fall into this category, including The Player, first in the Player Piano series.

The Other Me Series by Riley Z. Shields is about Jeff Holmes, a quirky, free-spirited, attractive young man, as he journeys from being an aspiring actor to an A-lister. Along the way, he solves some mysteries and meets his reluctant soulmate. The fourth book in the series, Deadly Audition, is available free here:

Traditionally, straight women have dominated the MM romance genre, and some of them have moved into gay mystery as well. Josh Lanyon is the best known of this sub-sub-genre. I’ve enjoyed her Adrien English series, which begins with Fatal Shadows, as well as many others, including her Secrets and Scrabble series. She writes a good story!

 SC Wynne’s Kip O’Connor M/M mystery series is another in a similar vein.

I’m sure that there are more—please share your favorites in this genre in the comments!