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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You realize that more than three makes you The Cat Lady, right? I mean, unless you live on a farm. In that case, I can certainly understand your reaction to feline dismemberment, however fictional.
more than three makes you The Cat Lady,

On my street, anyway. But a woman I know who volunteers for a local rescue group usually has at least 8 in her home at any given time---awaiting placement with foster parents, though some I'm sure are permanent. Another neighbor has almost as many dogs---another rescuer. And then there's the kind woman who runs her own sanctuary--she used to live in a farmhouse but recently moved to larger quarters. She's got over 125 cats---unless some have been adopted. A few dogs too. So I'm only Cat Lady Lite. :)
BABIES, Jon -- there's a difference. 'Children' implies having reached at least the first level of self-consciousness. Babies haven't gotten to that point yet and so share at least some basic characteristics with pets.
Oh, good point. Perhaps we can accept the killing of adult human characters because for them, we can work out some sort of logic to their death. I don't mean 'justifying' it, but we can see that they were killed because they saw something, knew something, etc. They represented some kind of threat to the killer, they fit into the pattern of the story in a logical way. Whereas a pet can never really represent a 'logical' threat of that sort -- a threat of intention, or consciousness. Therefore we know that the killing of the animal is completely gratuitious, and, as such, abhorrent.
Therefore we know that the killing of the animal is completely gratuitious, and, as such, abhorrent.

Yes, that's it. You've made the point better than I did. What I've been trying to say all along. It seems to me that it's pretty much ALWAYS gratuitous---it certainly seemed so to me in the examples I cited. In the Maitland mystery I referred to, the cat mutilation absolutely no bearing on the story---we never actually knew for sure who "dd" the cat. Actually, that was NOT one of Maitland's better books, anyway, IMO.

Well, murder mysteries are "about" human entanglements and obsessions--- we want to know the motive, who had opportunity, etc. That's what I think we follow when we read a mystery---the unfolding of the histories of the characters---victim in particular---, the revelation of clues, linking events, all the things that lead to the solution.

What would make someone do this thing? (In reality much different than in fiction, it seems---but that's another whole disucssion).

When I said we read mysteries because of a fascination with death---I was a little off the mark perhaps---I should have said, Murder is the worst of all crimes, so it's the psychology & motive that are really compelling. The REASON. Murder mysteries ARE above all, LOGICAL.
Then how do you account for the popularity of serial killer fiction? They certainly qualify as gratuitous killings, if we can accept the killing of other adults because they're some kind of threat to the killer?
One thing I like about these discussions is that we get to demonstrate our talent for making up completely arbitrary rules. Yay!
Something strange about that recent popularity which followed, and perhaps was followed by, a slew of real-life serial killings. Has there been a historical increase? It seems to me that a case like the Ripper was once unusual enough to remembered forever after.

From the readers' point of view: the serial killer is the ultimate monster, so these books are really tales of horror. And horror has always had its fans.
I can't account for the popularity of anything, Dana -- I think there will always be a segment of society that likes the gruesome, up to and including animal torture. To me, serial killers are unintersting for the same reason animal-killers are uninteresting -- there's no internal logic to their killing. At least, that's what we're told, but somehow, serial killers in books always follow a pattern which ultimately allows the detectives (or whoever) to catch them -- "Wait a minute...this victim wasn't dressed in overalls and a clown nose!"
Guilty pleasures? Because we are all a bit twisted? (Anyone who wants to make himself or herself an exception is welcome to do so). Curiosity? The very human desire to understand HOW someone could do such things. And, let's face it, we are a society that loves sensationalism. As long as it's not someone WE know who is a victim. On some level I think we just go into denial about our own feelings and motivations.

The Petersons (Michael and Kathleen) and their family) lived only a few blocks away, in Forest Hills, one of the poshest neighborhoods in Durham. After his conviction, the contents of the house were sold in a estate sale or auction, I was out for a my usual walk on that day, and along the cross street and on the side streets of the entire quiet residential neighborhood near their home there was not a single place to be found---where there is seldom ANYONE parked. People were parking everywhere except on residents' lawns. There were HUNDREDS at that auction--they had to take numbers. Did they need all the fine stuff---the antiques and such that they were going to get at a bargain? I don't think so. My guess is that most of them wanted to get inside THE MURDER HOUSE! Even to have bragging rights---"I got this vase at...." I met a couple on their way back to their car---book dealers--who hadn't even been able to get in the door. on TV they showed people coming out of the house with the loot they'd bought--one woman literally jumping up and down in glee, like someone on THE PRICE IS RIGHT. Poor Kathleen Peterson. Dead and gone, and the vultures picking at the remnants of her once lovely life.
For Minerva: Very true and good point.
There are all sorts of readers. Some like gore. But, yes, I find it disturbing also, much in the same way I find gross torture and dismemberment of humans disturbing. The issue is: why was this scene introduced? Is it there to make the novel more "edgy" (a nice way of saying "anything goes") because certain readers like to have that nerve irritated, or was it there to make a point about human nature. My feeling is that it's unforgiveable if the author just thought it would sell more books.

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