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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The issue is: why was this scene introduced? Is it there to make the novel more "edgy"

That is sort of the crux of it, I think. Thanks for understanding.
I think most authors would do it to raise the emotional stakes, and to create tension. So, a twofer. It's the cat that's the cliché, IMO--why not penguins?
Oh, NO! I love penguins! :) Who doesn't love a penguin, esp. after those penguin movies that came out a year or so ago. Besides,m penguins are kind of hard to come by in an urban setting.
Minette Walters had somebody snuff a fox right off the bat in "Fox Evil," and that was as far as I got with that novel. Although that probably wasn't the only reason---I don't think I really took to the other books of hers that I read, and I;m not even sure why. But, I happen to like foxes, too. We have some in our neighborhood. It's just too difficult to find an animal nobody feels protective about....alligators maybe? But they wouldn't be easy prey...

I think the emotional stakes are pretty high already in most crime fiction. Young women? Children?
But what you're saying is that you're relatively inured to the murder of fictional humans, right? So where does the author have to go to reach you emotionally?

And are you really suggesting that you'd find the murder or mutilation of fictional children easier to process than violence done to fictional animals? Really?
relatively inured to the murder of fictional humans, right?

Missed this post before. Well, this is a tricky question isn't it. The thing is, that a murder mystery usually BEGINS with the murder of a fictional human--that is the PREMISE of murder mysteries, isn't it. The person is "unknown" to us, so we haven't formed any "attachments" to him or her as an established character. We are not usually "invested" in that character, though we might even become so during the development of the story---if that is the writer's intention.
Of course, some mysteries are littered with victims---other people who "have to die" in order to further the murderer's agenda or protect his or her identity---but now we're back to the DIFFERENCE between the gratuitous killing and the one that moves the plot along. Unless a cat or dog can IDENTIFY the killer, they aren't really appropriate victims! (I hope you're smiling).
The characters, including those who "have to die," or the ones who provide red herrings even, ARE there to move the plot along. Good Lord, I hope I didn't say I'd prefer to see children murdered rather than animals! (But don't push me on that one---my sympathy for kids pretty much ends when they reach the age of Spoiled Brat, although I think tape over the mouth and a pair of handcuffs would be as good a remedy as killing). Besides, most writers don't just throw in a child mutilation as a warning or lesson, do they? If a child is murdered in a novel, it's usually the crux of the story, its premise. That's the initial shock, and we go from there.
So if we accept the "premise," it doesn't necessarily mean we're inured to that kind of violence or to any kind; we want it solved; we want the killer caught and punished.
Actually, I have no stomach at all for REAL violence of any kind. Sometimes I wonder why I read mysteries at all.
I would suggest that you read them despite your real-world distaste for violence because you understand that there's a world of difference between the fictional and the actual. Fiction allows us to have all sorts of safe, vicarious experiences we wouldn't otherwise dream of having. Ultimately, the whole point of fiction that it engages the imagination. What you're saying is that there are some things you don't want to imagine, and that's fine. I draw the line at the supernatural (except for the occasional ghost in literary fiction): vampires, werewolves, haunted cars and the Rapture are all on my to-be-flung list. We all have our stuff. But it's important to remember that it's OUR stuff, and not necesarily a reflection on the author. If people want to write sexy virgin vampire novels, more power to them. Will I read one, ever? No, I will not.
Ultimately, the whole point of fiction that it engages the imagination.

Yes. That is why I read it. And of course I will continue to read mysteries--- (I was just kidding) because, for the most part, I do enjoy them.

Fiction allows us to have all sorts of safe, vicarious experiences we wouldn't otherwise dream of having.

Safe and vicarious--that's the key. Our DISTANCE from the actual crimes and other situations in murder mysteries allows us to do that. If you come too close, in reality, you probably can't ever feel really safe again. I was thinking, on my morning walk, that if someone I knew and loved, whether a family member or friend, were murdered, I would NOT be able to pick up a murder mystery ever again, or watch a movie about it, or anything, because I would have lost my detachment.

It's not that we don't care about strangers who die, in whatever way---not that we are really unured to death---it's just that we have to "guard" or protect our emotional boundaries. We can have empathy, but that doesn't mean we open the floodgates. We seldom feel as strongly about someone we don't know who dies, although there are of course exceptions---when a death is particularly heart-rending or shocking. Or when it is an innocent---a child. Or a pet. When feeling does overwhelm us, it can drown us, incapacitate us. But you are right---that we also need to probe at those boundaries, test them in a safe way: through the imagination.

And a thinking writer--whether of mystery or any other genre---knows how to do that.

As for vampire novels---I thought "Interview with the Vampire" was very entertaining, but I never read another one of the series after that. Didn't feel I needed to. Didn't care. The original Bram Stoker "Dracula" was great---there is a whole psychology behind this genre that is quite fascinating viewed culturally, (sex and death) but I'm no longer interested because it's all become schlock. Teenage vampires, all that culty stuff....it's more about makeup and lookin' good with little white fangs and...having power when you feel powerless.

Yes, there are some wonderful literary ghost stories---Henry James was a master. Shirley Jackson. The Haunting of Hill House was one of the most chilling books I've ever read. And the original movie was good too. But then, the true ghost story is always about the workings of the mind. So, we're back to the imagination again, fiction's realm.

Thank you so much for your participation in this thread! I'm looking forward to reading some of your mystery novels.
Thanks for posting, Caroline. Fun thread.
I mourn the senseless death of so many humans in mystery and crime novels. It saddens me to no end that so many actual human people have to die in these books. These people have families dammit! Does the author even stop to think for one second what the gratuitous murder is going to do to his or her mother! I mean c’mon, the old girl just doesn’t deserve it, hasn’t she been through enough already. What of the person’s boss when she doesn’t show up for work on Monday. It’s enough to reduce a reader to frustrated tears.

Please forgive my outburst. I don’t know what overcame me. I think I’m just going to go back to reading science fiction for a bit.
I think I’m just going to go back to reading science fiction for a bit.

You know, you've got a point there! Maybe I should just quit reading murder mysteries altogether. Maybe it's DEATH of any kind that is making me queasy. But I persist--- I keep trying to find an author to match Ruth Rendell, but I still haven't found anyone I like better. She is that rare thing---a mystery writer whose books are worth re-reading. Because she's one of the handful of truly great writers who just happens to use the mystery genre to explore her ideas. And....I think she loves cats, :) because she has never killed any. Except in one short story---'The Queen of the Cats." But it's quite a wonderful story.
These people have families dammit!

Not to get too far off the original subject here---but you know that Elizabeth George got a LOT of flack from some readers because of what she pulled off in With No One As Witness! Some vowed they were never going to read her again. I have to admit I was pretty shocked myself, but I didn't give up on her. And I'm still not sure WHY she did that. Tired of the character maybe? We KNOW these are fictional characters---but there's that thing called 'willing suspension of disbelief." So we DO start to think of fictional characters as real---people, animals, all of them. And dead is DEAD! Although I seem to remember that Conan Doyle brought Sherlock back....
Is that the one where what'shisname's wife gets killed? Not my favorite book, and stretched out over two. Further irritating me because of the sob story regarding the killer.

Her best books are the ones where Sergeant Havers got some space. Great character.


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