Posted in Cozy, Guest Post, mystery, Texas on September 24, 2017


A college student, dead, in an empty pasture. Rifle-carrying strangers in the local grocery store. An irresistible and loveable Labrador puppy. These add up to trouble for Susan Hogan, associate professor of English at Oak Grove (Texas) University, and her partner, Jake, Chief of Campus Security. Susan’s independent investigation involves a shooting, a break-in, vandalism, threats, a clandestine spy trip to the woods, and an attempted kidnapping. Throughout, she trips over—and trips up—law enforcement investigation, to Jake’s ongoing frustration. Small college towns just aren’t always as peaceful as they are billed.

The first book in this series is The Perfect Coed, click on the cover below to be directed to Amazon

Guest Post

The small worlds of the cozy mystery

Cozy mysteries are traditionally set in small towns, on the theory I suppose that the population in a small town is easier to handle. Everyone knows everyone else, and they interact—sometimes even murdering each other. With a limited case of characters, it’s easy to point the finger of suspicion at this one and that and to develop relationships, antagonistic or otherwise, that result in murder.

As soon as I say that I know people will come forward with favorite urban mysteries. Off the top of my head I think of J. A. Jance’s JP Beaumont series, set in Seattle, or Cleo Coyle’s New York coffeehouse series. Of course, there are exceptions to my sweeping generalization. I have even set the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries in the good-size city of Fort Worth, but the major characters live, work, shop and dine in one tight-knit neighborhood. Same as a small town.

Cozy is a subgenre of mystery, but even the cozy has its sub-subgenres. Think of the small and controlled worlds of the academic mystery or the mystery set in a library. All three settings—small town, university, or library—offer the advantage of the unexpected. Small towns are stereotypically peaceful; universities are bastions of learning and as such should be aloof from violence (never mind we know that’s not true), and the same is true of libraries. Gentle souls go to libraries to read, don’t they? Murders just don’t happen in places like that—or do they?

Academic mysteries seem not to have caught on, although some honorable authors have tried their hand—including Anthony Boucher (The Case of the Seven of Calvary, tracing way back to the ‘30s), Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes (1940s), American Sharyn McCrumb (Bimboes of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool-1990s), and right on up to John Grisham, with The Summons in the early years of the 21st century.

But the only sustained academic series seems to be the Kate Fansler mysteries by Amanda Cross (a pen name for professor and feminist author Carolyn G. Heilbrun). Kate, professor of English, is featured in close to twenty adventures, and most of the murders are set on campus and involve academic colleagues, either as victim or perpetrator or both.

Libraries also offer a small world, although that world, like academia, has not been much explored as a setting for mysteries. You might make a case for the popular Aurora Teagarden books by Charlaine Harris. Aurora is a librarian and some scenes take place in her library. Otherwise, again, single titles come to mind: Sylvia Nash’s Benjamin’s Ghosts and Ellen Butler’s Poplar Place, not set in a library but with a lot of the action in one. As with academic settings, there seems to be no sustained series set in a library.

I don’t know if the conclusion means that those settings just don’t work with readers or that no one has given them a fair try. My Oak Grove Mysteries are academic—Susan Hogan is an associate professor of English at a university in a small, west Texas town. The first book, The Perfect Coed, takes place mostly but not entirely on campus; in Pigface and the Perfect Dog, the action moves ore to the town than the campus.

Could it be that the world of libraries or college is too small to sustain a series? An author quickly runs into the Cabot Cove syndrome, where it stretches credibility that so many murders occur in such a small population. The small town offers more diversity that a library or a college campus, yet not the unmanageable crowds of the big city.

About the Author

Judy Alter is the author of six books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, two books in the Blue Plate Café Mysteries; and two in the Oak Grove Mysteries. Pigface and the Perfect Dog follows The Perfect Coed in this series of mysteries set on a university campus. Judy is no stranger to college campuses. She attended the University of Chicago, Truman State University in Missouri, and Texas Christian University, where she earned a Ph.D. and taught English. For twenty years, she was director of TCU Press, the book publishing program of the university. The author of many books for both children and adults primarily on women of the American West, she retired in 2010 and turned her attention to writing contemporary cozy mysteries.

She holds awards from the Western Writers of America, the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Texas Institute of Letters. She was inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and recognized as an Outstanding Woman of Fort Worth and a woman who has left her mark on Texas. Western Writers of America gave her the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement and will induct her into its Hall of Fame in June 2015.

The single parent of four and the grandmother of seven, she lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her perfect dog, Sophie.

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