Cozies and cats go together like peanut butter and jelly or Bert and Ernie. (Okay, I’ve never actually heard someone mention Sesame Street in the same sentence as cozy mysteries, but it seems apropos in this instance.) Pets in cozies can attract and hold a readership.
Publishers also believe in the power of cats, if the presence of cats on cozy mystery covers is anything to go by. The cover of my third Mall Cop mystery, Malled to Death, actually features cats that appear nowhere in the book. I kid you not.
What role do pets actually play in cozy mysteries, anyway?
Pets make a character instantly relatable
If she is taking care of an animal, or interacting with one in a positive way, readers are inclined to like her. Your cozy protagonist doesn’t have to own a pet, but it’s handy for someone in her circle to have a pet that she can interact with. In my Readaholics series, Amy-Faye’s work schedule wouldn’t be fair to a pet, but she rescues a stray kitten, Misty, and gives it to one of her fellow Readaholics. Misty comes to the book club meetings.
Pets give your protagonist someone to talk to
With a pet in the house, you can avoid pages and pages of internal dialog by letting your character talk through the intricacies of the mystery, evaluate the suspects, or rant about her boyfriend’s idiocies to Fluffy or Fido.
Pets show your character in a relationship, and that’s attractive
We extrapolate from the bond your protagonist has with her pet and assume she’s as kind, responsible, and caring in human relationships.
So, I can just toss a few animals in the story and it will automatically top the bestseller lists? Not so fast.
Points to consider before including animals in your cozy mystery series.
All pets are not created equal
Cozier pets (i.e., those with fur and personality) seem to work better. I know this is unfair to the bearded dragons and neon tetras of the world, but readers seem to prefer to read about animals that are more interactive. I’m not saying you can’t make a corn snake sympathetic and engaging, but it’s an uphill battle. (No writer has the talent to make a pet tarantula appealing to enough readers to earn out your advance.)
If there’s an animal in the story, it has to be well treated
That means your protagonist must take time away from her job, sleuthing, and other relationships to care for her pet properly. She can’t tail a suspect for twelve hours with nary a thought for Poochie, desperate for a walk, food, or companionship.
Decide what role (if any) the pet will play in solving the mysteries
There exists a sub-category of cozies where the pets get involved with the mystery solving. You might want to go this route, or you might want Muffin to be an adorable, but ordinary, cat. It takes a special skill to write from an animal’s perspective, so be sure you want to take on the challenges before giving an animal sleuthing abilities.
Never kill a pet in a cozy mystery (I didn’t really need to say that, did I?)
On balance, pets work well in cozies. Choose an animal companion that fits your protagonist, make sure she takes care of it, and have fun building their relationship.
What are your favorite animals in mysteries? Or, what animal-based cozy series do you enjoy? Tell us on Facebook.
PS – Missed the rest of this series? Start here, with the first part of the formula for writing a cozy mystery.