Hello everyone. I'm brand new to this site/forum, although I've been a reader of crime fiction for decades. To be perfectly honest, I need to vent about something, and here is a place where I can address readers, writers, AND editors.  At the risk of sounding like a crank I really have to talk about this, because it bothers me a LOT. And I think it's important.

 Over the past few months, in no less than 3 of the murder mysteries I have read, I have come across extremely disturbing (though fictional of course) murder/mutilation of animals---in this case, cats.  It's presented as a gory  aftermath---introduce cat, then later, cat turns up dead, mutilated---as a threat/warning  to protagonist. Can't we think of something else?
The novels in question: Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,  Jennifer McMahon's Promise Not to Tell, and Barry Maitland's Dark Mirror, which I'm currently reading.

No doubt the writers (the ones still living, anyway)  would justify these kitty death/mutilation  (cats are the most popular victims, apparently, because I guess maybe  writers  assume it's  easy to get hold of a friendly cat and slit its throat  without having your face clawed off).    as necessary to the plot---to show what sort of  hideous  character we're dealing with here.  And then they would say, BUT IT"S FICTION!  There's human murder, shouldn't that upset you more?   But, we EXPECT that, don't we, when we read a murder mystery! 
 ( Oh, now I also remember--- P.D. James had her murderer try to hang a cat in The Murder Room, but happily, the cat was rescued in the nick of time, so I had to forgive her for that one.  )
 For this reader, it's like being blind sided. We can't know this is coming, can we, when we pick up a promising new mystery?  Maybe there  should be a warning on the cover, a sad kitty face or something, because no matter how good the book---this kind of incident pretty much ruins it for me.  
 I read mysteries  for the puzzle, the suspense, and, ultimately, the cleverness of the solution.  And for the quality of the writing, too, as it happens--- NOT for the  grisly  and gratuitous details.
  I don't just blame the writers---I would also like to whisper a word of advice to the EDITORS.  Do you really think readers are going to enjoy being introduced to a sweet, friendly cat only to find it dismembered some pages later?  (I should probably put the book down as soon as a cat appears).  Come on now ---is this gratuitous killing/ mutilation REALLY necessary to "prove a point?"  Yes, animal cruelty is a fact of life. I try very hard NOT to read about it any more than I have to.  I deplore it. It's why I've rescued so many stray cats myself. 
  Is this getting to be a trend in contemporary crime fiction, or was it just LUCK OF THE DRAW for me?   I've been reading mysteries for years, but it's only now , it seems, that I'm encountering this "other"  kind of violence as a plot device.
 Recently, a friend of mine, also a cat owner/lover, asked if I could recommend "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."  I had to tell her: Yes, BUT...  and when I told her, she decided she was  probably NOT going to read it.
And Barry Maitland, who has become one of my favorite crime fiction authors, had to go and ruin it for me too. (Of course I'm going to finish reading the book,  but I feel as though I've been smacked in the head  with a fly  ball in this one, and I'm not happy about it).   The "fictional"  cat in question was a  little ginger tabby---exactly like the one I happen to own, I might add.   If you've read this book, you'll know what I'm talking about; if not, BEWARE. It's horrible.
  SO:  Does anyone else find this disturbing?  If I hadn't encountered this new phenomenon three times recently, I might have ignored it.  Writers, editors---we don't NEED this!  It's disgusting, and it really does take from the pleasure of reading an otherwise excellent and suspenseful crime novel.

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Yes, what that illustrates is how disgusting human nature can really be. I like it, though it would make me really angry while reading. How in the world will you punish every yahoo who organizes and participates in this?
Well, you can't. You just pick one horse's ass out of the herd and make an example of him.
How come the movie gets all the credit, isn't that scene in the book? Poor Mario Puzo.
It was indeed. Actually, for me, the movie was much better than the book; the book was mostly remarkable for Puzo's insight in reviving the mafia story, which had been dormant for awhile. What I remember most about the book is that when it came out in the early '70s we passed it around and hyperventilated over the great up-against-the-door sex scene--page 168, or whatever it was.
Must agree that the film adroitly omitted elements in the novel that seemed to exist merely to titillate.
I think the scene's actually in the film, but with film's inherently objective pov it just doesn't have the same oomph, for my money.
I think there's a reason for the recoil; it's the same reason we recoil at babies being killed. Pet animals and babies are archetypes of innocence in the human narrative, whereas grown human beings represent a level of agency that we can accept as murder victim. I can't quite put my finger on the specific difference, but I have a gut-level reaction of NO to the fictional killing of animals and babies that I don't have to the fictional killing of adults. I don't agree that the two victims are equal, but I don't know specifically why, aside from the general difference I've mentioned. Perhaps someone here with more insight can work it out...
can't quite put my finger on the specific difference, but I have a gut-level reaction of NO to the fictional killing of animals and babies that I don't have to the fictional killing of adults.

You have just put your finger on it, EXACTLY. Innocence and helplessness. We DO recoil. For just the reason you mention. But, you see, the writers are defending this on the grounds that it might "move the story along." If we are absolutely honest with ourselves, we DO read crime fiction for a vicarious thrill, titillation, whatever---that shiver of excitement that disaster and catastrophe arouse in us. We also expect, in mysteries, that the victims are killed for a "reason." They saw something, they know something, etc. etc.
We enjoy the puzzle of finding out why, the chase---the escape that provides---and we want a satisfying conclusion. But when writers have to embellish their stories with certain other kinds of violence, we DO recoil. The mutilation of a little animal is just a writer's head game, and it means I CANNOT escape.
Now you're conflating animals and children, when before you were drawing a distinction between them--no fair.

I don't think of cats as being the archetypes of innocence--they seem entirely self-interested to me. But then, our cat has systematically destroyed my favorite leather chair, so I do harbor the fantasy of turning him into a nice winter hat.
conflating animals and children

Not really, Jon---:D, my cats are all "babies" to me---some (the one we keep indoors only) more infantile than others. And frankly, cats are no more self-interested than people, I've found--once they get what they want, they settle down for a good nap. BTW, try microsuede. It's maybe not as classy as leather, but cats don't like it. Too smooth.
my cats are all "babies" to me

Um... How many cats are we talking here, Caroline?

Microsuede, check.
Um...5, at present. The most recent addition was this past winter and he;s still very skittish, but is working on making himself part of the clan. One indoors (she was adopted from a feral colony through a local rescue group), and 4 outdoors, all strays who have found their way to the food court/sanctuary. We have a big back yard, and a basement for cold weather in winter. I trap 'em, get them neutered and vaccinated, then wait until they come to trust me completely. Patience is the key. And regular meals. :)

Heard about microsuede from some friends who also have cats. Got our old den sofa done over (it was in tatters from the efforts of two former kitties) and our indoor kitty has not laid a paw on it since. Unlike leather, there is nothing for their claws to get a purchase on. It's apparently not that INVITING. Cats like texture. I guess leather is pretty smooth--but it also probably has a nice animal smell to it, and can easily be punctured. Kitty joy. I know this is off topic...but maybe there's something here someone could use in a future mystery? :)

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