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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I am more inclined to say how dare we, as a society, dismiss the tragedy of neglect and abuse that forces African American kids on the streets, into the drug trade. Of course, having worked in one of Baltimore's toughest neighborhoods, I am all too well aware of the violence that goes with the territory. One of my students last year, in one night three people were shot on the street he lived on. I could tell you a real-life story of the death of a cat that would keep you up at night. People invest more concern in saving fictional animals than they do in saving real ones, and real kids. This is a topic that comes up frequently at every Bouchercon, is an annual staple on DorothyL and that's fine. Authors can write whatever they want, readers can read whatever they want.

The main thing authors should be judged on is not whether the hardboiled novel they've written isn't more like a cozy - it's whether the novel they've written maintains its own consistency. With the movie, it's believable in the context and consistent with the story. If you're reading a Precious Ramotswe book and at the 2/3 point she strings up a dog she's cared for and shoots it, it's completely inconsistent with the tone and content of those books. Readers have a right to be offended.

I can't say the events in Promise Not To Tell came as a surprise to me as a reader. It was a dark story, with a lot of dark themes and dark acts. That's just how I saw it.

Now, I haven't read Larsson and doubt I ever will. But from what I've heard about the books, they're misogynistic and have a lot of violence towards women in them. Am I that surprised to hear there's a cat killed? Not really, considering some of the other stuff I've heard about those books.
People invest more concern in saving fictional animals than they do in saving real ones, and real kids

Oooh, Sandra---not quite fair, that comment! If you are acually referring to me---you've got the wrong person. First of all I am not REALLY "invested" in saving fictional animals---what's to save, anyway? It's FICTION, remember --I was just making a point about how writers use this device in questionable ways. Call it ---verbal abuse, then, if you will. I'm about done talking OR thinking about it.
AS a matter of fact , I have rescued (and nurtured) MANY real animals over the years---many cats, a small dogeven an infant possum. I do what I can. So don't assume that because I complain about the "abuse" of fictional animals that I'm not invested in real life animals. That one reason WHY fictional animal abuse upsets me---I'm a *** bleeding heart. Not as fanatical as the PETA folks, but invested.
I don't work with kids in a tough neighborhood so I can't claim that, and you can spare me the death of a cat you know about because I know some stories myself, I wasn't born yesterday. I have to block out some of these---it's just too much., and there's too much of it. You know that if you work with the poor and oppressed.
I know something about what goes on out there. Sometimes the reality just gets to be too much---that's why I'd just as soon NOT encounter animal torture (or any other kind really) in the fiction I read for relaxation. And that IS why I read mysteries---or whatever anyone else wants to call them.
So you think movies are more believable than books? Is it the visual aspect? Lots of movies are made to LOOK like documentaries. "Real life."
Don't read Larsson. I don't think I can recommend him. There's definitely a lot of violence---I don't know if that makes him a misogynist: more as though he was trying to expose certain conditions. Ugly ones. he may have thought of himself as a potential reformer. He was a liberal activist---if we can believe what's written about him. As you have just pointed out, some people write (or film) about violence in order to create awareness. Even to change the status quo.

Promise Not To Tell was definitely dark, and I sped through it because it was quite well-written and intriguing, but I was frankly disappointed in the end, with the seemingly supernatural twist. It's as though the author couldn't quite decide how to resolve it. Sure, they caught the killer. But the channeling bit? And I couldn't believe that the murderer would actually try to kill his last victim when he had already been CAUGHT red-handed! Just give up, stupid---it's over now! That was not at all convincing. Oh well, You can't win em all.
It was a general comment. And, generally speaking, it's true of a lot of people. I've been around the block on various message boards, forums and listserves and seen variations on the discussion about animals hurt in fiction over and over again.

And I've worked in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Baltimore (not to mention tough neighborhoods in the GVA and Calgary as well) and I can tell you that in my experience, there are a lot of readers who are concerned about violence towards animals in books.

But in some of the inner city schools I've worked in I've been told repeatedly not to take it home with you, don't worry about what's out of your control, stay out of it 'cos you can't save them from the streets.

It's a very interesting contrast for me. Why is it readers can be so passionate about one issue, and people who actually work with kids who are being abused, who're using and selling and all that other stuff can turn themselves off to it?

The program I worked in last year, statistically, 85% of the kids will be dead or in jail by the time they are or should be 18.

How do you not take that home with you at night? But that's me. Dang, I'd pick up every stray on the street and take them in if I could - cats, dogs, you name it. And people too.
Why is it readers can be so passionate about one issue, and people who actually work with kids who are being abused, who're using and selling and all that other stuff can turn themselves off to it?

Sandra, I think that a lot of us who have not had the kind of experience in that you've had, which is extraordinarily demanding and emotionally draining, and which makes you angry because you can ONLY do "so much" ---are still compassionate, kind people, who perhaps wish we could do more than we actually can.

Dang, I'd pick up every stray on the street and take them in if I could - cats, dogs, you name it. And people too.

There you are. You wish you could do more. But, you know---just by doing whatever you are doing, you're doing your part, and you're doing plenty. I'm not surprised you take it home at night, that you're so sensitive to the needs of these people. We'd probably all do the same, but maybe we don't all have the stamina.

But what I said earlier about boundaries---you still have to keep a little inner sanctuary for yourself. If I worked in an animal shelter, for instance, I would have 50 cats, instead of only 5. And I'd still feel guilty about the ones I couldn't take home.

there are a lot of readers who are concerned about violence towards animals in books.

I expect there are. I'm actually relieved to hear it. I just hadn't been on any of THOSE forums. And concerned about violence of all kinds in books, and in movies.

Maybe we read mysteries because for the most part, even though it's just fiction, SOMEONE is trying to do something about bringing the violent to justice. Well, that's one reason, anyway. And not a bad one, at that.

Why do you read mysteries? :)
Yes, totally agree about the Larsson reading. A few small voices have been heard to point that out. He revels in the violence against women thing. And I draw another line at books that choose that preoccupation with sexual violence because it sells.

I don't agree about a person's environment excusing acts that are fundamentally wrong and are known to even a very young person to be wrong. If this becomes a part of the character and shows his twisted sense of values, I can accept it, but I will never accept it as part of an otherwise admirable character.
He revels in the violence against women thing.

And sex. Some of it prettttty kinky.

But the girl is violent too---kind of a psychic extension of an, um, male ego...she's hell on wheels with a baseball bat!

I've read two of the novels. Think I'll skip the third one. Don't need it.
Well, I may get it from the library in a year or so. Her character is what sells the books. Most readers have taken it to be an affirmation of the strong, liberated female. She is violent as a direct result of what happened to her, and she directs her violence against those who abuse girls. That, I can buy. Larsson's attitude towards women is another matter.
She is violent as a direct result of what happened to her, and she directs her violence against those who abuse girls. That, I can buy.

Yes. She's a kind of :"fury." An "avenging angel." She's TINY---like a child, which is also interesting. And works with the Pippi Longstocking connection. As for Stieg Larsson's attitude toward women---well, sadly, he ain't here to defend himself. I think he liked them. The real villains in his books are ALL male. And they are as bad as they can be. And they DO get their "comeuppance." The women are, for the most part, strong, smart and savvy.
Did I say 'admirable' somewhere? Really, I went back and looked and couldn't find it, but if I did it was an error in context. I can admire certain things about the character, but overall this is a kid who's a drug dealer and a murderer. Did he have values? Yes. Were they warped and twisted? Yes, in some ways they were. And all the experiences of his life had warped him. He was a product of his environment but he still had a heart. You don't see as much of it throughout the movie. He's lying to so many people you don't really know what he's up to, but at the end, after it's over, one single tear rolls down his cheek. And no matter what, I could feel for him, for the hopelessness of his situation and his life. Yet somehow, he decided to save his sister from it, or to at least risk his own life trying. There is something admirable in that.

That's great storytelling.
I read about two-thirds of #2, The Girl Who Played with Fire. I kept going as long as I did because of the female lead, the young girl who'd been abused. I liked and cared about her, and thought Larsson was trying to condemn his society (cops, judges, the foster system) for being misogynistic and hypocritical. I got bogged down by a lot of omniscient, background passages and couldn't finish.
thought Larsson was trying to condemn his society

I thought so too. He was a journalist, in real life, and tried to expose all kinds of corruption, apparently. He died quite young---probably a heavy smoker---but under a lot of stress too!
I got bogged down by a lot of omniscient, background passages and couldn't finish.

Maybe he needed a more stringent editor!


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