The best cozy mysteries for people who think they don’t like true crime

Cathy Pickens Author Of Triangle True Crime Stories
By Cathy Pickens

Who am I?

When I started writing mysteries, beginning with St. Martin’s Malice Award-winning Southern Fried, I wanted to get the medical, investigative, and courtroom details right. What better resource than good first-hand accounts from professionals who do those things every day? I love traditional, play-fair mysteries and the puzzles they present. But I also love writers who get the technical details right while also writing engaging novels I can get lost in. Nothing better than curling up with a good mystery.


I wrote...

Triangle True Crime Stories

By Cathy Pickens,

Book cover of Triangle True Crime Stories

What is my book about?

North Carolina's Triangle region is known for its universities, research facilities, and politics, but even in such a prosperous, diverse, modern environment, crime helps define the edges. These cases cover several decades of murder, fraud and betrayal. Read about the nation's largest prison escape and a couple of North Carolina's poisoners. From a civil rights-era clash of Old South and New and a suspected Cold War spy to new-tech sleuths and tales of diligent as well as discredited investigators, these stories will keep you entertained and aghast at the dark side of daily life. Writer Cathy Pickens brings a mystery writer’s eye to the region’s true crime. 

The books I picked & why

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The Pale Horse

By Agatha Christie,

Book cover of The Pale Horse

Why this book?

Those who think of Agatha Christie as a “soft” crime writer need to look at her books again. She qualified as a pharmacist during WWI, and she made good use of her knowledge of poisons in her novels. Cyanide was her most often used poison choice, but I like The Pale Horse because it’s one of the rare—and accurate—appearances of thallium in a mystery novel. Christie’s writing made my discoveries about North Carolina’s serial female serial poisoners even more intriguing.


Bootlegger's Daughter

By Margaret Maron,

Book cover of Bootlegger's Daughter

Why this book?

I love this book for many reasons—its rural Southern setting, its lawyer/judge protagonist Deborah Knott, its twisty mystery. But I was particularly intrigued when author Margaret Maron told me that the spark for the book was a real unsolved murder near her North Carolina home. I wrote about the real case when it was finally solved in Triangle True Crime, but Margaret’s version of what might have happened is so much more interesting.


The Whole Truth

By Nancy Pickard,

Book cover of The Whole Truth

Why this book?

Nancy Pickard is one of my favorite authors, starting with her Jenny Cain series. The Whole Truth, featuring true-crime writer Marie Lightfoot, was a shift for her. The novel simultaneously follows Marie as she researches the case of a dangerous serial killer and as she writes about it, which gives an interesting insight into the difficulties of living in a world where crime is real.


The Crossing Places

By Elly Griffiths,

Book cover of The Crossing Places

Why this book?

The first of Elly Griffiths’ books featuring Dr. Ruth Galloway is an introduction that has drawn me into the rest of the series. Galloway is a forensic archaeologist at a Norfolk, England university, and the details of her field research and how her academic life intersects with more modern murder mysteries is a glimpse at the scientific side of real crime. The cast of characters around her is a “family” I enjoy visiting.


Rumpole of the Bailey

By John Clifford Mortimer,

Book cover of Rumpole of the Bailey

Why this book?

I first met Rumpole, the Old Bailey Hack, as he called himself, on the PBS Masterpiece series. John Mortimer’s books about the curmudgeonly old barrister are even more delightful. As a former trial attorney, I love how the collections of short stories in his books give me a peek inside the British legal system—and how they present plenty of puzzles to solve, filled with irascible good wit. 


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in North Carolina, archaeology, and court trials?

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