Back in May, I wrote about a genealogical mystery I had read.Â I hadnâ€™t even realized that this genre was out there, so I committed myself to finding and devouring more such books.Â Now itâ€™s time to report back on a couple.Â But first, Iâ€™d like to take a brief detour for a definition.
Whatâ€™s a Cozy?
Once again, I find it necessary to confess my ignorance.Â Until I went on this recent reading binge, I didnâ€™t know what a cozy was.Â But time and time again, as I read reviews, I kept seeing the word â€œcozy.â€Â On the off-chance that some of you might share this same knowledge gap, I thought it might be helpful to explain.
According to mystery-writer Stephen D. Rogers, â€œA cozy is a mystery which includes a bloodless crime and contains very little violence, sex, or coarse language.Â By the end of the story, the criminal is punished and order is restored to the community.â€
Ah, OK.Â Well, that certainly fits.Â If you venture into the world of genealogical mysteries, youâ€™ll find that theyâ€™re almost all cozies — pleasant reads that you can absorb in one couch-lounging session.Â Of course, I canâ€™t promise that the genealogist in you wonâ€™t be frustrated by the detectiveâ€™s choice of tactic (thoughts such as, â€œDonâ€™t waste your time doing that — the answer you need is in the cemetery!â€ frequently crossed my mind), but overall, these are relaxing escapes.
In Sheepâ€™s Clothing
Author Rett MacPhersonâ€™s mystery series is classic cozy all the way.Â Her books feature genealogist and accidental detective Torie Oâ€™Shea, a stick-your-nose-in-other-peopleâ€™s-business kind of character.Â In this case, sheâ€™s lured out of state by an aunt to figure out what became of a young Swedish woman who wrote a diary back in the 1850s.Â
Luckily for Torie, sheâ€™s surrounded by people with unending patience, like her wheelchair-bound mother who watches her kids while sheâ€™s gone, and her husband â€“ a fellow everyone else feels sorry for.Â In fact, sheâ€™s so flawed that I was somewhat resistant to accepting her at first â€“ until it dawned on me that I share many of her flaws.Â Heaven knows, my husband has spent many patient hours tramping through cemeteries and listening to me noodling out loud, trying to crack a case.Â Some of you may even recall that I road-tested him when we were dating by dragging him to a morgue in Portland, Oregon.Â So it probably wonâ€™t surprise you that I ultimately decided that Torieâ€™s many flaws are charming!
As to the genealogical aspects, MacPherson clearly knows her stuff.Â True, it seems a little odd that Torie hardly ever hits in the Internet.Â Sheâ€™ll take a trip to a library for a census record that she could look up online in a minute or two.Â But it certainly makes the story juicier when she has a run-in along the way!Â Computer screens just donâ€™t make for good conflict, so I found myself willing to go along when she takes a less-than-efficient approach.
And if youâ€™re a true genealogist, youâ€™ll find yourself genuinely caring about the Swedish girl and wanting to solve the mystery as much as Torie.Â In fact, if youâ€™re an avid genie, youâ€™ll spot some of the clues along the way before Torie elaborates on them.Â So youâ€™ve got a chance to flex those sleuthing muscles and feel just slightly superior.
My verdict?Â Well, letâ€™s put it this way: I plan on ordering more of MacPhersonâ€™s books.Â And if you check out the comments that were posted after my first article, youâ€™ll see that Iâ€™m not the only one who enjoys these light-hearted romps.
Judgment of the Grave
Sarah Stewart Taylor specializes in slightly less cozy cozies.Â In her books, we follow Sweeney St. George, a gravestone expert and Harvard art history professor.Â As you might expect from her occupation, Sweeneyâ€™s no lightweight, but she still has her share of imperfections â€“ mostly having to do with her personal relationships.
If Judgment of the Grave is any indication, Taylorâ€™s tales are somewhat darker.Â Thereâ€™s a little more blood and one of the main characters in this book is a seriously ill child.Â But what really sets it apart is how carefully itâ€™s been researched.Â This particular book, for instance, centers on current-day deaths with ties to the American Revolution â€“ and the reader actually learns something along the way.
As you might expect, Sweeneyâ€™s mystery-solving approach is less genealogical than Torieâ€™s.Â Sweeney is more apt to consult with another expert or academic than Torie, but she still spends countless hours in cemeteries, so that makes her one of us.
I was also taken with Taylorâ€™s writing style.Â She somehow manages to educate and entertain without getting preachy or teachy.Â So yes, her other books will also be on my shopping list.
What Do You Think?
Iâ€™d like to invite you to take advantage of the ability to post comments to this article.Â I found the remarks from the last one very interesting.Â In fact, they somewhat guided my reading selections this time out.Â If youâ€™ve read any genealogical mysteries â€“ or any sort of book with a strong genealogical theme (other than a straightforward how-to) â€“ Iâ€™d greatly appreciate it if youâ€™d take a moment to share your views.
Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, co-author (with Ann Turner) of Trace Your Roots with DNA: Using Genetic Tests to Explore Your Family Tree (as well as In Search of Our Ancestors, Honoring Our Ancestors and They Came to America), can be contacted through www.genetealogy.com, www.honoringourancestors.com, and megansrootsworld.blogspot.com/.
Upcoming Events Where Megan Will Be Speaking
— Roots in the Boot
(July 15, 2006, Pittsburgh, PA)
— Tidewater Genealogical Society
(August 5, 2006, Newport News, VA)
— Joint Genealogical Speakers Guild and International Society of Family History Writers and Editors luncheon at the FGS conference
(September 2, 2006 – Boston, MA)
— David Ackerman Descendants 1662
(October 21, 2006 – Ramapo, NJ)
— 2006 Genealogy Conference and Cruise (hosted by Wholly Genes Software)
(November 11-18, 2006 â€“ Mexican Riviera)