In today's story, Cozy Mystery Club, five friends decide it's time for their book club to investigate a real-life crime.
Today's prompt was inspired by some thoughts about book genres. What is your favorite style of book? Do you like cozy mysteries, science fiction, romance, or another genre? Do you read a little of everything?
As always, the story was written from the prompt, with no planning and very little editing. If you enjoy today's story, please share it with your friends and leave a review for Freely Written. Thank you!
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 102 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is Cozy Mystery Club.
Today’s prompt came to me when I was thinking about book genres. My own novels span a few genres, since they are typically written as contemporary fiction with a sci-fi, fantasy, or psychological twist. The books I like to read are more eclectic, and sometimes I really love to settle in with a cozy, feel-good read. The kind of book that has enough twists to hold my attention while still being reassuringly gentle with the promise of a happy ending.
Thinking about that led me to the idea of cozy mysteries, which conjure the idea of picturesque small towns, plucky protagonists, and red herrings dressed in hand-knit sweaters and hot cider charm. Hence the Cozy Mystery Club prompt.
While this prompt naturally invokes some classic tropes, I wrote today’s story with my usual Freely Written process, which is to sit down with the prompt and write whatever comes to mind—with no planning and very little editing—and then record the story and share it with you.
Here’s what came up today:
Cozy Mystery Club
The blue light on the electric kettle switched off with a click that was only audible in a quiet room. A classic whistle would have been more useful in Adele’s lively kitchen, but it wasn’t long before Adele saw the kettle was ready and poured steaming water into five waiting cups. She preferred to make a proper pot of tea, but her friends liked the variety of choosing their own tea bags, so she deferred to majority rule.
That willingness to go along was a shared attitude that had sustained the group for nearly fifteen years. While other book clubs might come and go, the Cozy Mystery Club had become an institution. Of course, membership had shifted over the years, as social groups are bound to do.
Adele and Whitney were the only founding members who had stayed active throughout the club’s entire run. Carol had been with them at the start but had moved to the West Coast for eight years and had only returned to Virginia the year before last. The other three founding friends had gradually left, often when family or career obligations got in the way.
Additional friends had come in and out of the group over the years with membership typically ranging from six to ten avid mystery readers. The club was currently the smallest it had ever been, but its five members were dedicated, and meetings had increased from twice a month to once a week.
While Beth was not a founding member, she had been in the club for over seven years. Jess had joined eleven years ago, but had dropped out and rejoined three times, making her the member with the least total time in the group. Though the others were careful not to point that out.
“I say it’s time we get involved,” Beth said daringly as Adele finished pouring out the kettle. Whitney shook her head and Jess chuckled while reaching for a ginger snap.
“Involved in what?” Carol asked. “The investigation?”
Adele laughed as she returned the kettle to its base. It wasn’t the first time they’d speculated on the outcome of a local crime, but they knew better than to think they could actually get involved.
“Why not?” Beth persisted. “It’s our homes that are being targeted. Our neighborhood.”
She had a point. While they’d all heard stories of packages being stolen from porches in other towns, they’d been shaken when the thefts began in their own cozy neighborhood. What’s worse, multiple thefts had occurred in the last six weeks and the police seemed no closer to catching the thief.
“I don’t understand how they haven’t identified him with the doorbell cameras.” Jess finished off her ginger snap before adding, “What’s the point of having them?”
They had been among the first to install doorbell cameras when the Homeowners’ Association suggested them in a monthly newsletter. The cameras were billed as a convenience as well as a crime deterrent. The former selling point had been quickly apparent, giving them notice of deliveries and passersby, yet the latter was proving to be less reliable.
“The video doesn’t help when the thief hides his face,” Carol reminded.
“Or when not enough houses have cameras,” Whitney added. Though the recent crimes had prompted more neighbors to buy them, which the police said would certainly help.
They had all seen the video footage shared through social media, and none of it had caught the thief’s face. He always wore a baseball cap and stared at his feet as he walked.
“How does he even know which houses have packages?” Beth asked indignantly. “He has to look up sometime!”
“But never when he’s on camera,” Carol said with a shake of her head. “And where do the packages go?”
They all paused to consider the possibilities. He never stole from porches with doorbell cameras, but he had been seen walking with packages near the scenes of the crimes. Until another camera picked him up without a package.
“He’s parking between houses with cameras,” Whitney stated firmly, knowing it was what most neighbors had suggested online. “There are cameras catching him stealing from across the street, but they don’t see his car because he parks farther away.”
“Then why keep walking after putting a package in his car?” Adele countered. “Why do cameras catch him stealing and walking out of view with a package, then other cameras catch him a few minutes later walking without the package? Why not just drive away when he gets to his car?”
“Because he’s not putting them in his car!” Jess exclaimed, startling Whitney as she was about to take a sip of tea. “Oh, sorry! Here’s my napkin.”
Adele wiped the table with a second napkin while Whitney blotted at her shirt front.
“Then where is he putting them?” Beth asked, after seeing that the spill was being handled.
“I don’t know,” Jess answered with a bright smile, “but he’s hiding them somewhere off camera. In a bush or behind a garden gnome. Anyplace out of sight so he can come back with his car later.”
“Because everyone checks their cameras for cars leaving right around the time of the crime,” Carol said slowly, catching on to Jess’ theory. “They aren’t looking for strange cars that drive by an hour or two later.”
“He can pull right up to the hiding place,” Jess agreed, “knowing there’s no camera there. Then just snatch the package and drive off.”
“Any cameras that see his car later wouldn’t be able to tie it to the time of the theft,” Adele added. “That makes sense.”
“Why hasn’t the police thought of that?” Whitney asked, taking one last dab at her shirt. “I mean, it’s pretty obvious when you stop to think about it.”
Jess turned sharply, but bit back whatever she was about to say when she saw the pale splotch on Whitney’s shirt.
“Maybe they have,” Beth suggested. “Maybe they suspect that’s what he’s doing but haven’t caught him at it yet.”
“Because they don’t have enough officers to patrol the neighborhood often enough,” Carol said with growing excitement.
“But we’re here all the time,” Jess pointed out with a wide grin. “We can split into teams and walk the neighborhood throughout the day, looking for hiding places where there are no cameras and maybe finding a package before he comes back to pick it up.”
“We can tape up some empty boxes to leave on the porches that fit his pattern!” Whitney suggested, getting into the spirit of it.
“Yeah, trap him!” Adele agreed happily and they all cheered.
They began talking at once then, offering plans and calling for paper to sketch out a map of their neighborhood. Adele hurried to gather supplies, trying to recall which neighbors had shared videos of the thief and making a mental list of who might be willing to help them.
As she returned, Adele watched her friends having a lively discussion around her kitchen table. It was finally time for the Cozy Mystery Club to solve their first real life crime, and she knew they were up for the challenge!
Thanks for joining me today. What kind of stories do you like to read? Are cozy mysteries your cup of tea or do you lean more toward sci-fi, romance, or another genre? I love hearing from listeners and especially love when you suggest prompts for future stories. You can connect with me on social media or through my website: SusanQuilty.com. Links are in the show notes.
If you are enjoying Freely Written, please tell your friends and leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also check out my novels, which make great gifts for yourself or a friend!
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]