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.