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  • Writer's picturePeter Interland

WTF is a Cozy Inverted Mystery?

Most of us know what a murder mystery is all about. Someone is dead and the investigators, along with the reader, get busy trying to solve the crime and identify the killer. Your basic whodunit. The Cozy mysteries subgenre—a warmer, softer, fuzzier whodunit—has grown in popularity over the years. But with the recent release of Dying to Get In, many people have asked me what the hell—to use a less profane phrase—is a cozy inverted mystery?

Let’s start with inverted mysteries and leave the cozy part for later.

The truth is, you may already be familiar with inverted mysteries, even if you were unaware what this format was called when you saw or read one. I will provide some examples in this article.

As opposed to a whodunit, inverted mysteries are often referred to as a “howcatchum” or a “howdunit.” That’s because in an inverted mystery the perpetrator of the crime is known right from the very start—vs. the climax—of the story. You know the who, then you learn the how, and maybe the why. Sometimes, it might even be the if they do it. You might ask, “Where’s the fun in that?” Great question.

Inverted Mysteries You May Know

“For some writers the use of an inverted form is a chance to experiment with the structure of a mystery story and show that you can still craft a viable puzzle even if you know the killer’s identity,” says Mysteries Ahoy in their Five to Try: Inverted Mysteries article. “Others like to use the form to explore the psychology of killers or their perspective on the cat-and-mouse game of detection. Sometimes these books are light-hearted and comedic with the killer’s plans either coming to nothing or being turned back on the killer themselves. Others are dark, gritty and drenched in noir-style.”

Wikipedia's piece on "inverted detective" stories cites several early examples of the inverted mystery subgenre including Malice Aforethought, written in 1931 by Anthony Berkeley Cox, Freeman Wills Crofts's The 12:30 from Croydon (1934), and the 1952 BBC television play Dial M for Murder by Frederick Knott (later adapted in 1954 as a theatrical film by Alfred Hitchcock). In the latter, “Tony Wendice outlines his plans to murder his wife Margot in the opening scenes, leaving the viewer with no questions about perpetrator or motive, only with how the situation will be resolved.”

The article went on to list several popular TV shows that frequently featured episodes “that employed the ‘howcatchum’ format” including some episodes of Diagnosis: Murder, Monk, Criminal Minds, Columbo, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and the British television crime series Luther.

Considered a cult classic, Kind Hearts and Coronets, a 1949 British black comedy film loosely based on the novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal (1907) by Roy Horniman. The main character, Louis D'Ascoyne Mazzini “is the son of a woman disowned by her aristocratic family for marrying out of her social class. After her death, Louis decides to take revenge on the family and take the dukedom by murdering the eight people ahead of him in the line of succession to the title.”

Why Ask Who When You Can Wonder Why?

“Reverse whodunits are rare, and for good reason—it's not easy to make a book engaging when the biggest secret is revealed on page one,” says Kelsey McConnell, Reverse Whodunit Books That Put You in the Mind of a Murderer, published Aug 31, 2021 in Murder & Mayhem. ‘However, if you have the luck of stumbling across one of these backwards tales, you can rest assured that the drama and twists embedded in the hows and whys of it all will make the spoiler worth it. Why wonder who committed a crime, when you can wonder why?”

So, you love to solve mysteries. Figure out who the killer is before the lead dick in your story does. Roger that. Who doesn’t like to play the smart sleuth? But, just maybe it’s time to try something new, in a fun fast, read that takes about as much time to enjoy as it does to binge watch most of your favorite cable programs like Only Murders in the Building or Ted Lasso.

“If you've read so many mysteries that the formula has started to feel predictable, this subgenre is a great way to step out of a funk,” says McConnell. “But where do you start?”

Explore the Subgenre in Cozy Comfort

My recommendation is—shocker—to start with Dying to Get In. I created this story to entertain you. To amuse you. And without being overly dramatic, to provoke you. You may find yourself laughing unexpectedly. In fact, I would bet on it. You may get a brief glance at the dark side, but I promise to lead you back to the light. And, you will laugh at that too.

What might surprise you most is how Dying to Get In might challenge your thinking about what you would do––what length you would go to––to protect the one you love most.

The “cozy” part of DTGI exists in the overall feel and tonality of the story. Like Only Murders, this story is primarily comedic punctuated by dramatic moments and brimming with likable quirky characters, several unexpected twists, and a thoroughly satisfying conclusion.

I hope that you will enjoy reading Dying to Get In as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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