East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Murder in the countryside


It all started with a nice article on CrimeReads, about British cozy mystery TV series we could binge-watch during the lockdown. Because, really, what’s better than having a cup of tea and two biscuits, and watch some gruesome murder being investigated in Britain’s green and pleasant land.

Now I like mysteries and I like cozy mysteries when they don’t get too silly or saccharine – and I have tried, once or twice, to write one, but find the genre very hard to pull in a convincing manner. A pity, because from the look of the Amazon lists, cozy mystery is one of those genres that never get old, and always find readers. Currently they seem to be filled with witches and cats playing detective, but there you have it.

Anyway, I posted the link to the CrimeReads article, and two or three of my contacts wondered at the fact that there is still life in the English countryside considering the number of murders that are committed all over the place. And one of them asked me how I would handle the demographics should I ever write a countryside cozy series, à la Midsomer Murders.
Which is an intriguing question, and so I did some math.

I live in Castelnuovo Belbo, population more or less 800 people.
This is fine, because in this sort of novels/TV series, we have a limited recurring cast, and everybody else comes in when needed, to kill or be killed or witness the murder or be suspected.

A cozy mystery series set in Castelnuovo should feature the main investigator (possibly an amateur), their sidekick, possibly some family, plus two or three “institutional” characters – say the local police officer (if the sleuth is a dilettante), the pharmacist, the bartender, plus a handful of locals as comedy relief.

Given these characters, and taking the children from the picture because you can’t really kill children in a cozy mystery, we get about 650/700 people in my village that can be summoned on stage when needed as killer, victims, witnesses or suspects. Let’s say there can be a 5% of victims, which means about 35 people. Enough for 35 episodes – or possibly less, because it usually happens that there is a second victim, midway through the story, to up the ante and mix the cards. So, let’s say that a village of 800 people provides the rough material for 20 novels or TV movies – and at the end of the whole thing, the population will have dropped of about 70 people, counting dead victims and apprehended killers. Say 100 if we follow the rule that at the end of such a story there’s always someone that leaves.

So, after 20 episodes of our series, the local population would drop from 800 to 700 – not bad, and considering that these stories are usually seasonal, we can imagine that 20 episodes makes 5 years.
More people die of natural causes in 5 years in Castelnuovo.

And then of course we can cheat – we can kill the occasional tourist or house-guest, and a few people that just relocated here, maybe buying the old mansion with the park and all that, people entering the area on hunting season or looking for mushrooms or truffles, and the seasonal workers in the fields, and of course we also get the sellers in the marketplace once a week, and the carnies that set up their carnival two or three times a year. This makes for another dozen of victims, easily, bringing our series to a total of over 30 episodes, and still the village would lose only 100 people tops, over a period of five years.

So, based on my calculations, even poor old Castelnuovo Belbo could support a British Countryside Class murder rate, and still work all right.

Now if only I could find a way to work out a cozy structure…

And then of course there would be the problem of finding a publisher in Italy – because hereabouts they only want “noir” … but on the other hand, I’ve heard Agatha Christie being called “the queen of noir”, so I guess I might manage.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

4 thoughts on “Murder in the countryside

  1. Wouldn’t italy had its (in)famous streak of cozy mysteries with detective nuns and priests? Perhaps, the old and grumpy priest of Belbo’s tiny parish is about to get a young and nosy housekeeper… out of curiosity, would the Montalbano series count as cozy mistery?


    • Yes, nuns and priests are a constant – but I’d rather do something different.
      As for Montalbano, it’s a strange beast, because it mixes a lot of different registers… it’s cozy, procedural, slides into noir-ish territory and then turns into comedy.
      Just like the work of Fruttero & Lucentini, Camilleri was an original author who developed his own style and “genre”.


  2. Cozies are fun no matter where they’re set. I hope you and yours are well.


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