A humorous mystery? how can a murder mystery be funny? In fact, there are lots — and those of you who are fans of fatally funny fiction already know what I am talking about. It is not that murder is funny, per se, but the characters and situations around the murder mystery are, well, funny.
There are many, many cozy mysteries that feature humor. A cozy mystery is loosely defined as a mystery with no explicit sex, violence or gore, and the murder takes place “off-screen”. They usually have amateur detectives, a confined setting and characters who know each other. Among cozy mysteries there are sub-categories like crafts: knitting, antiquing, scrapbooking; pets helping solve the mystery and cooking: pizza, baking, chocolate, etc. You can often tell by the “punny” titles that they are going to be humorous. Here are a few cozy humorous mysteries:
Meg Lanslow series by Donna Andrews
Starring decorative blacksmith and amateur detective Meg Langslow, these amusing mysteries poke fun at modern social conventions and small-town living. Their funny, offbeat tone, dialogue-rich narratives, and amusing misadventures make for light, fast-paced reading that will leave you in an upbeat mood — in spite of the occasional murder. Start with Murder with Peacocks (1999)
Goldy Bear mysteries by Diane Mott Davidson.
Diane Mott Davidson is known for the humor, quirky characters, and small town feeling of her cozy culinary mysteries. Caterer Goldy Bear is a smart heroine, whose ability to juggle her work and personal life (as well as murder investigations) makes her very appealing to readers. Using the process of cooking as a counterpoint, Davidson sets up a clever mystery and leaves clues. These books are generally light in tone, though as the series progresses the plots become darker. Catering to Nobody (1990) is the first in the series.
Agatha Raisin mysteries by M. C. Beaton
Miss Marple gets a modern makeover with the cranky and assertive Agatha Raisin, who retires to a small English village that is filled with quirky characters and numerous dead bodies. Nosy Agatha has a warm heart and looks for love in this cozy series that captures the flavor of village life in witty prose and intricate, captivating plots. Start with The Quiche of Death also known as Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (1992).
Dead-End Job series by Elaine Viets
In the first of this series, Shop Till You Drop, on the run from her past, Helen Hawthorne becomes a salesclerk at an elite clothing boutique in Fort Lauderdale – a seemingly mundane job that unexpectedly plunges her into a world of danger when she discovers that her employer has been embezzling money and dealing drugs.
Hannah Swenson mysteries by Joanne Fluke
Joanne Fluke’s culinary mystery novels are as delicious as their titles. Set in the small town of Lake Eden, Minnesota, these charming cozies star amateur sleuth Hannah Swensen, a witty woman who lives in a condo with her one-eyed cat, Moshe. Sprinkled with recipes, Fluke’s books are known for their quirky characters, humor, clever plots, and twist endings. Fluke has also written other mysteries that aren’t food-based. Start with: The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder (2000).
Here are some funny mysteries that are not “cozy” — that means there may be some language, sex and violence.
Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich
Janet Evanovich is best known for her mystery series featuring bounty-hunter-in-training Stephanie Plum, who is often assisted by her eccentric grandmother and equally inept friends and co-workers. While she’s sassy and “smart-mouthed,” Stephanie’s incompetence invites both sympathy and humor. The villains are also more incompetent than evil, and solving the mystery simply creates a backdrop for Stephanie’s antics. Though set in urban New Jersey, these slapstick mysteries have a small town feel as the neighborhood’s denizens play minor roles. Evanovich also wrote humorous contemporary romances and has produced some other slapstick mystery/adventure series. Start with: One for the Money (1994)
Squeeze Me (2020) by Carl Hiaasen
It’s the height of the Palm Beach charity ball season: for every disease or cause, there’s a reason for the local luminaries to eat (minimally), drink (maximally), and be seen. But when a prominent high-society dowager suddenly vanishes during a swank gala, and is later found dead in a concrete grave, panic and chaos erupt.
Carl Hiaasen’s hilarious satiric thrillers for adults combine bizarre characters, madcap antics, caustic wit, and a vivid depiction of Florida as a sultry natural paradise debased by human greed and folly. The violence in his books is not very graphic, with much left to the imagination. Some episodes of extreme cruelty and depravity may be too much for the squeamish, and there is ample sex and profanity. His books are stand-alones — not in a series.
Izzy Spellman mysteries by Lisa Lutz
Isabel “Izzy” Spellman, a San Francisco private eye with a checkered past, has been working for her family’s firm,Spellman Investigations, since age 12. Now 28, Izzy thinks she wants out of the family business, but elects to take on a cold case while dealing with her 14-year-old sister Rae, a nightmarish Nancy Drew, and parents who have no qualms about bugging their children’s bedrooms. When Rae suddenly disappears, Izzy and her family must learn some serious lessons in order to find her. The Spellman Files (2007) is first in the series.
Chet and Bernie series by Spencer Quinn
These humorous mysteries are set in the western United States, starring a charming dropout K-9 dog, and his sidekick human, Bernie, owner of the Little Detective Agency. Told from the mischievous dog’s point of view, this fast-paced series features complex protagonists and well-drawn secondary characters. Perfect for animal lovers and crime fans who enjoy funny, upbeat tales. Start with: Dog On It (2009).
Vinyl Detective novels by Andrew Cartmel
This is a series about a record collector who finds himself involved in more than just finding records. In the first of the series, Written in Dead Wax (2016), he is a record collector — a connoisseur of vinyl, hunting out rare and elusive LPs; his business card describes him as the “Vinyl Detective” … and a beautiful, mysterious woman wants to pay him a large sum of money to find a priceless lost recording on behalf of a wealthy, sinister, and shadowy client. Given that he’s just about to run out of cat biscuits, this gets our hero’s full attention. So begins a painful and dangerous odyssey in search of the rarest jazz record of them all.
Hathorne and Horowitz series by Anthony Horowitz
This series is one of my favorites — author Anthony Horowitz puts himself in the novels, as the sidekick to detective Daniel Hawthorne. In the first, The Word is Murder (2018), a wealthy woman is strangled six hours after she’s arranged her own funeral. A very private detective is uncovering secrets but hiding his own. A reluctant author is drawn into a story he can’t control…
Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde
Combining fantasy, adventure, and mystery, these humorous novels revel in literary allusions, puns, and outrageous situations. Literary Detective Thursday Next narrates her stories, recounting deadly danger as she battles arch-villains and the global mega-corporation that controls an alternative Britain. Hopping into and out of classic fiction as she tracks evil-doers, Thursday’s offbeat character is still very sympathetic and believable. Start with: The Eyre Affair (2002).
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