I’m not sure why, but for some reason “murder mystery” and “cozy” just go together. For me, there’s nothing more cozy than curling up near the fire with a big blanket and some hot cocoa, snuggling up to enjoy a murder mystery. Whether you’re looking for a board game, a book, or a television show, here are some dark, but cozy! recommendations.
The English Wife by Lauren Willig
This was the one of my Book of the Month choices for December’s box, and I ended up really enjoying it. The book takes place in New York City around the turn of the century, in 1898. These were the Gilded Years, when many of the families in New York were exceedingly wealthy, with one house in New York, and another in Newport. Or the Hamptons. Or both!
For the most part, we follow Jane, who is searching for her brother, Bayard’s, killer. On Twelfth Night, in the dead of winter, Bayard and Annabelle are hosting an extravagant ball to officially celebrate the completion of their newly built house. Bayard, overcome with love for his wife, has rebuilt the childhood castle she was raised in. But at midnight when Jane goes to find her brother, she only finds his body. He’s been stabbed and Annabelle is nowhere to be seen. As rumors begin to swirl (Annabelle killed him and ran off with her dress embroidered with jewels! No, Bayard drowned Annabelle and then committed suicide!), Jane decides to enlist the help of a charming reporter and begin searching for the truth. Who killed her brother? And does his murder have anything to do with the past of his mysterious English wife?
While this is definitely a mystery, it’s also a charming love story. It’ll keep you guessing much of the way through; I only wish we could’ve spent more time digging into Annabelle’s back story and less time listening to Jane complain about everyone underestimating her.
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (published by Fantasy Flight)
Another recommendation for a board game. In fact, I almost included it in yesterday’s list, since it can be played solo or as part of a larger group.
In this game, you aren’t playing as Sherlock Holmes, but as a potential apprentice. Your goal is to try to figure out the mystery in a more succinct manner than Holmes. The game comes with several newspapers, a map of London, a phone book (read: sheet of paper) with addresses, a booklet that details each location and person, and ten total cases. In each case, you are given the vague overview of the case, and from there you decide who you want to interview, where to go to look for clues, and eventually decide who to confront. There’s no time limit to the game, but each time you look for a clue and it ends up being a dead end, you subtract points from your total score. At the end of the case, you want your score to be higher than Sherlock’s.
This is, frankly, quite difficult. Most people I know who play the game will play with an alternate win condition, known as “figuring out the mystery before giving up and looking in the back of the book.” It’s a really fun game, and it’s even more fun to play with friends, as you go back and forth discussing where to go or who to interview next. I always have fun solving these cases (even if Holmes is much, much better at it than I am).
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (also available streaming on Netflix)
I watch a lot of murder mysteries, but even I think they get rather maudlin and dark after a few hours. Not Miss Fisher. Miss Fisher is fun. This series takes place in Australia in the 1920s, and follows Miss Phryne Fisher as she attempts to finagle her way into multiple crime scenes around Melbourne. Phryne identifies as a modern woman, and with her newfound wealth, sets herself up as a private detective. To do so, she often finds herself contending against the dashing Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, who urges her to stay out of police business. But Phryne (of course) has an eye for trouble, and sometimes she just can’t help but end up in the thick of things.
This is a female private detective who isn’t afraid to be sexy. She may or may not be waiting for Detective Inspector Robinson to ask her to dinner, but she won’t let that stop her from flirting with the men she’s investigating (seriously, up through the second season, I think she maintains a solid count of sleeping with one guy per episode). Miss Fisher is a woman who isn’t afraid of a little danger.
Honestly, this television series is hilarious, and Miss Fisher is probably one of my favorite detectives of all time. When I’m feeling down, it’s one of my favorite pick me ups. And the actors are all top notch. Everyone has incredible charisma and rapport with one another. There are three seasons so far on Netflix, and I have my heart set on a fourth. The series is based on a book series as well, one I haven’t yet had the pleasure of digging into, but one that I would still recommend, based solely on how enjoyable I find the television series it inspired.