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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That's the one. And Sgt. Havers is far and away my favorite of George's characters---probably the only one I fine believable. And yes, it was LONG. I have to admit, I do like the page turners---don't need to get TOO mired down in the protagonists' personal histories. But then George is trying to transcend the genre, I think.
Caroline - you said "Do you really think readers are going to enjoy being introduced to a sweet, friendly cat only to find it dismembered some pages later?" So if it's an evil, flea-ridden unfriendly cat it's fair game? :o)

I don't want to read about the gratuitous killing of anything human, cat, alien or aardvaark. But there's that G word again - my definition of gratuitous might not be yours

I'm not a big fan of gore-splattered serial killer books where the violence is ramped up with each subsequent murder, but an author can show evil without waving a bloody knife and a sliced eyeball at the reader every two pages. I love dark, noir, chilling books. I would have loved Jim Thompson's THE KILLER INSIDE ME even if he'd killed a whole family of cats because he was a great writer and I'm sure he would have done it 'right'. On the other hand, I dislike certain ultra-cosy books where human murder is glossed over with often no thought for the victim or their family and friends (but it's OK because Hydrangea Hypotenuse was rather a nasty character who, we are told, had a nasty tongue on her and definitely deserved her fate).

So, for me, kill anything you like as long as it's important for the story, as long as it's not written in a supposedly titillating fashion,and as long as the details are not lovingly dwelled on. I don't like gratuitous anything - be it violence, porn, or embroidering toilet-seat covers. If it's not gratuitous then all of those are fine...well, maybe not the toilet-seat cover embroidering - that's just SICK.
Ah, yes. Never forget the fall-out of murder. It's not a game for readers like a crossword puzzle. That demeans the subject and is as morally questionable as wallowing in gore for the joy of it. But what do I know? I certainly haven't reached bestseller status by keeping things real.
Hydrangea Hypotenuse. That's really, really good.
I think they're probably pretty similar.

but an author can show evil without waving a bloody knife and a sliced eyeball at the reader every two pages. I love dark, noir, chilling books

I totally agree. Same here. It's the psychology of the crime novel that intrigues me. And I don't like the "cozy" school approach much, either. But Maitland's description of the "tiny bloody head" of the kitty on DI Kolla's pillow struck me as completely unnecessary. The cat hindquarters all bloody and stinking sliding out of Kolla's mailbox? THAT's my point. He could have chosen to do something else. Even a dead pigeon. Or some garbage.
It makes no odds - if it's gratuitous it's gratuitous - whether it's a kitten, a pigeon, or bag of garbage. If it's not gratuitous, and the author has seen it as important for story/character development/etc then I am prepared to go with whatever the author has written.

On the other hand, if it's MY mailbox then I wouldn't want ANY of them sticking out of my mailbox, but would be able to cope with the garbage, if pushed :o)

And you said in an answer to someone else "After all, we ARE talking about crime fiction." Exactly, it's fiction. Why would I be more likely to get upset about a fictional cat dying than I would a fictional person? I have, incidentally, on occasion, cried at the death of a fictional character - that's the author doing a good job.
Why would I be more likely to get upset about a fictional cat dying than I would a fictional person?

Its not the dying per se. It's the shock value, the MANIUPLATION of the reader's feelings, the characters. And I have said, it's all gratuitous, as far as I'm concerned. I hate it, and there's no damn excuse for it.
+1,000
Well, aren't we all? And I am more concerned about real life murders, and real life animal abuse, of course I am. (There have been several high profile murders in my own "neck of the woods.") Real life murder puts most crime fiction in the shade. But on this site, we ARE talking about crime fiction! And if we choose to read this fiction, we are escaping, on some level.
We read murder mysteries because we ARE fascinated with death, in one way or another. And people write them because there is such a big market--people have an insatiable appetite for a good suspense stories. Writers perhaps see things in a different light---the end justifies the means. And as a reader, though, I get the last word--- if an author hits a nerve-I'm free to toss your book back into the return bin!
And that's certainly YOUR prerogative, as a reader.
I never said it was OK to kill/abuse fictional humans! But, if it weren't, on some level, we'd have no murder mystery genre. I don't even know if the genre serves a greater purpose.Except that it fulfills some sort of desire to see justice done. Or to solve a PUZZLE>
When I say "we all are " concerned about the oil disaster, I'm just talking about most of the people I know. Sorry about that misunderstanding. But you are now bringing in something that is quite irrelevant to this discussion---or to my intentions--that politicizes it, when all I'm really talking about here is a reader's gut response to something IN FICTION that serves no real purpose. As I see it.
We've always had disasters in which people and animals alike die horribly---but we still go on writing and reading "crime" fiction. Maybe for some it's a way of pretending that we actually can SOLVE our problems--that we can find resolution and closure to horrible deeds---when in fact, there often is none.

See what J. Nelson has to say, about why some of us draw the line at descriptions of animal mutilation. ut then maybe ALL murder mysteries are gratuitous exploitations of our fear of death. How else explain the thirst for this kind of fiction? If you want a good story written with skill---there's all of literature to wallow in.
Yes, some writers see things in a different light. Not all writers think of their work as escapism.

Personally nothing turns me off a book faster than the words, "serial killer." It's a topic I'm just not intrerested in. I have yet to come across anything close to insight when it comes to serial killing.

In fact, I've pretty much given up on any kind of crime novel with random (previously unknown to the murderer) female victims. Yes, I know, violence against men is bad, too, but I don't see it as often where the men are students or store clerks kidnapped on the way home from work. Usually the violence against men involves people who make a living committing crimes getting violent with each other.
In fact, I've pretty much given up on any kind of crime novel with random (previously unknown to the murderer) female victims.


That's a karmic gold star for you, McF.

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