Recently, I was asked the following question, by mystery reader Garaghty:
… So, I have a strange question: Have (you) come across a cozy written from the first person point of view? I know that a feature of the cozy is that intimacy, where the reader solves right along with the likable protagonist, but I’ve noticed that most are still written in 3rd person. I was wondering if you knew of an exception…
Thank you, Garaghty, for such an interesting question, and I hope you come to love Cozies as much as I do! My initial response was that I have read very few Cozies that have been written from a first person point of view, but the more I thought about it, the more examples I came up with that actually use the first person perspective to help immerse the reader into the setting.
Agatha Christie herself, perhaps the greatest Cozy Mystery author ever, occasionally used first person perspective, especially early in her career. Poirot’s chief assistant and friend, Captain Arthur Hastings, was her most common narrator, narrating both the first Poirot case, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, as well as the last, Curtain – if you’re interested in reading a first person point of view Cozy, the Mysterious Affair at Styles would be an excellent selection!
Another excellent example of first person point of view in Cozy Mysteries is one of the earliest examples of detective fiction, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Though not considered a Cozy at the time (obviously, since the term “Cozy” wouldn’t be coined for decades), the Sherlock Holmes novels have many of the elements later covered by Cozies – an amateur (albeit brilliant, in the case of Holmes) detective, solving cases using a unique perspective not shared by the police, with relatively little graphic bloodshed or other unsavory elements. All of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes famous cases were narrated by his faithful chronicler and assistant, Doctor Watson. Even the few mysteries where Watson was absent for part of the mystery were often recounted afterwards as Watson’s retelling of Holmes’s story, such as in The Adventure of the Empty House, when Holmes explains how he managed to survive what seemed like certain death at Reichenbach Falls.
That said, it is worth noting that the individual we follow in these novels is rarely the detectives themselves, but is far more often their primary assistant. I think this is because entering the mind of the detective is often too much of a risk – exposing the “inner workings” of a genius mind like Sherlock Holmes while retaining the character’s mystique might be too tall an order, even for the character’s creator! There are some exceptions – Christie did have Miss Marple narrate one story, Miss Marple Tells a Story, though portrayed as a letter to her nephew Raymond after the fact rather than as the case occurred – but these seem to be exceptions rather than the rule.
Even using the assistant has the risk of making the narrator seem slow or incompetent, especially if the reader can solve the puzzle faster than the narrator. With a more traditional third-person point of view, there is always some question when exactly the detective learns who committed the crime – hardly a possibility if we know their every thought! In some circles, a relatively slow, bumbling character who only exists to ask questions for the detective to answer is often referred to as “the Watson”, despite the fact that as a medical doctor, Watson must have been quite intelligent in his own right! Unfortunately it only takes one or two cases where the narrator seems at a loss while the reader has already noticed the true culprit before a character’s credibility is seriously damaged. A more distant detective might instead reasonably claim that they were waiting for decisive evidence to move against the criminal, who they naturally identified much earlier.
I can think of two more books and one series that have the first person perspective right off the top of my head: Marion Babson‘s The Twelve Deaths of Christmas, Agatha Christie‘s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and Spencer Quinn‘s Chet and Bernie Mystery Series, although, Chet is a first tail-waggin’ narrator!
Yikes! It looks like I’ve gone a little longer than I realized on this one! Thanks again, Garaghty, for such a good question – I hope I answered it fully!
Can anyone else think of some good examples of first person point of view in Cozies? Please leave a comment!
P.S. I am getting so many great comments about mysteries that are told in the first person perspective that, rather than list them on this entry, I’m going to highlight them in the comments so that if you’re interested, you can check the authors out. Be sure to read the terrific comments!