Up until recently, I wasn’t aware that cozy mysteries existed. Apparently, “cozy” denotes a mystery that frequently involves a bloodless crime, takes place in a small town, and is solved by an amateur sleuth. Murder She Wrote is generally cited as the best-known example of the genre, but RJ Brown’s latest novel, The Dead Husband, also serves as a wonderful example. In line with the specs of this novel, the mystery begins when the protagonist, Sally Collier, discovers a corpse in the garden of a house she’s cleaning. The corpse is intact, so no blood. Additionally, the mystery takes place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest, so it meets the “small town” criteria, too. And, finally, the sleuth has a day job: she’s a char woman (i.e., a house cleaner) — a profession chronicled by none other than Charles Dickens, so the novel not only meets all three criteria for a cozy mystery, but it also has somewhat of a classy literary pedigree.
What really brings this mystery to life is the characterization of char woman-cum-detective Sally Collier. The character lives and breathes on the page, and Brown conjures her so naturally that one can almost hear the narrator’s cockney accent (at least, that’s how I heard it!) as Sally goes about the business of trying to solve her first murder mystery. Indeed, sitting down with The Dead Husband is, I would imagine, just like sitting down with Sally herself. Sure, she has a tendency to ramble, but that’s what we love about her, and that’s what makes the narrative–and, needless to say, Brown’s writing style–so much fun. All in all, The Dead Husband is a lovely book, and I can say without exaggeration that it’s the best cozy mystery I’ve ever read.