Bestselling author Jenn McKinlay got her start writing romantic comedies for Harlequin, but it turned out she was better at killing people than making them fall in love.

“You throw in a dead body, and that will move a plot along,” said McKinlay, who lives in Scottsdale.

She’d grown up reading Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie. Her agent steered her toward cozy mysteries, my most recent obsession.

In a cozy mystery, there are no gory details, a likeable amateur sleuth, usually a woman, quiet villages or small towns and a satisfying ending.

McKinlay would need a good hook, her agent told her.

She was commissioned by Penguin Random House in 2008 to write a three-book series about Lucy Lawrence, who teaches decoupage classes in a New England town, solving murders on the side.

“Shockingly,” McKinlay said, “decoupage wasn’t a hit.”

But it was a hook.

McKinlay worked part-time as a librarian, and a coworker asked her to help choose cupcakes for her wedding reception. Then a friend called about the opening of Sprinkles Cupcakes.

McKinlay asked her agent, “What do you think about cupcakes and death?”

She expected to write three books about bakers Melanie and Angie, who whip up delectable desserts while hunting down killers. She’s now written 13.

Next, McKinlay wrote a series, aptly, about librarian Lindsey Norris who solves murders in coastal Connecticut with help from her craft-obsessed friends. She followed that series with one about the Good Buy Girls, who use bargain-hunting skills to solve crimes.

Her fifth series is about cousins Scarlett Parker and Vivian Tremont, who own a London hat shop and solve murders. I’m reading the first (of six) now.

Writing cozy mysteries is as therapeutic for McKinlay as they are for us to read.

“In a world where we have no control over the bad stuff, cozies give you that sense that everything is going to be OK,” McKinlay said.

“It’s murder, but it’s nice.”

Reach Karina Bland at [email protected]. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @KarinaBland.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to today.

Read or Share this story: