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 have two absolutely-will-put-the-book-down rules, and one of them is animal cruelty. This seems to be a favorite trope amongst the Purple Paperback 'crime' crowd, and, like my other AWPTBD rule (unexamined sexism and/or sexist violence), it seems to be more and more common in current fiction -- crime or otherwise. I think that writers feel like they have to ramp up the gut-wrench factor in order to compete with the 'excitement' of movies, video games and TV, but all it does for me is make me despise the writer and bad-mouth him/her to everyone I can.
I have two absolutely-will-put-the-book-down rules, and one of them is animal cruelty.

Finally--- someone else who actually does agree with me. And I think you've got a good point about the ramping up of crime fiction. The grittier and viler the better. Not for this reader. This MIGHT be a good time for me to end this discussion. But I'll give it another minute. I think I've aired MY opinions quite thoroughly here! :) I want crime fiction---I just want HUMANE crime fiction! How about that! :)
I think I can speak for all of us when I say who cares about Omar, what about the cat?!
Of course, the simple answer is I find all violence disturbing.

I think every story needs to justify its own content within its context. In other words, if the full tone of the work supports the inclusion of violence towards animals, readers should probably know early on that the book isn't for them.

There's a good, largely unknown movie called Fresh that is an absolutely tragic account of one young boy's life, and his desperation to save his sister from the world of drugs, sex and violence that they're submerged in. He knows he has to be prepared to risk everything he holds dear to do what needs to be done to save his sister. And so he shoots a dog he loves and cares about. He needs to know that, as a 12-year-old boy, that when the moment comes and he has to face drug dealers and tough men who'll kill without blinking an eye that he can pull the trigger. The way he prepares is by killing something he holds dear.

It's a devastating scene. And there's no part of it that's comfortable. But there should be no part of such a story that's comfortable. Why is it so much easier for us to accept a 12 year old selling drugs just because he's African American? Why doesn't that bother us so much it's almost unbearable to go on and watch the story?

For me, it's the G word that's the guideline: Gratuitous. Definitions will vary.

The books I'm having issues with are ones that seem like right off from the start they want to be shocking and rub your nose in the pain and violence, without having spent any time establishing characters. Too many serial killer/cut-the-baby-from-her-womb types of stories.

The thing is, books that have more heart and less gore don't sell as well, and overall, it seems clear you like mysteries, but not what would fall under the wider scope of crime fiction. I'm one of the people who thinks it's usually a good thing if it's clear what a book is so that readers can choose accordingly. If I get a book with a glossy pink cover and a petite blonde in 4-inch heels and clothes scattered all over the cover, I don't expect to find a dead cat on her doorstep unless the petite blonde in 9-inch heels has a chalk outline around her, a bloody knife protruding from her belly and the reason for the clothes all over the place is that she's partially naked. When I see the words 'A Novel' on a cover I feel like my intelligence has been insulted (and as an author I don't blame the authors... because we have no control over such things) but if a book says, "Crime Novel" then that's good, because I know what I'm supposed to be getting.

Honestly, considering the content of Larsson's books and what you've said in posts here, I don't think that would be your preferred reading at all. Maybe you could get some recommendations for what you do like.
Oh, and anyone who wants to see a bit of the movie FRESH can go here.
And violence IS disturbing. As I pointed out earlier, perhaps we read about it in an effort to understand, or as a catharsis. That's what the Greeks tried to achieve with their tragedies. You work through the horror to some form of understanding.

But when you open a mystery, or crime novel, or whatever it might be called--- you don't always know what to expect, although the covers do give some pretty obvious clues. Still, the distinctions are often NOT clear. I can usually tell something by reading the book jacket blurbs and synopses, but not always. And at the library and in bookstores, they're all filed under M for Mystery. I don't really need recommendations, for the most part. Maybe I've just hit a bad patch. I've read everything Ruth Rendell has ever written, :), and I'm running out of options here.

I have been talking all along about gratuitous. Look, films have ratings---books don't. It doesn't warn you: extreme violence to children, women and/or animals. Often I judge by the quality of the writing---which doesn't take too long. But even that's not entirely reliable.

As I said, I gave up on Patricia Cornwell after awhile---and it was the horrendous violence to the human victims that started to become sickening to me. The books stopped being procedural and became a kind of grand guignol of violence and mutilation. Gratuitous? I'd say so---or sensational. As if she's saying: how much can you take? But we don't really know WHY her evildoers are so bad. They don't really have motive--they're just black holes. Sensationalized monsters. Abstractions of evil.

You wrote" I think every story needs to justify its own content within its context. And I agree. The example you cite from "Fresh" is probably a good example. Or, in John Hershey's "The Wall," the late scene in which Jewish prisoners of the Polish ghetto are trying to escape the Nazis through an underground tunnel, and when an infant begins to cry it is suffocated to silence it so that it will not be heard and bring disaster upn the entire group. And that's undoubtedly based on fact. It's not gratuitous, but it is definitely not comfortable.

I read the Larsson books almost by chance. No, it probably isn't my preferred type of reading. But Barry Maitland's police procedurals are---and they ARE myteries as well. And so was "Promise Not To Tell," or so I thought, although it ended up having overtones of the supernatural. So, go figure!
Caroline, you might like P.D.James. In fact, there are probably a lot of writers who fit your interest without being totally superficial. I like the Mma Ramotswe books by Alexander McCall Smith. I also like Keating's Inspector Ghote series, and Andrea Camilleri's books set in Sicily. Larsson is, in my opinion and based on having read numbers 1 and 2, not as good as people make out.
Actually I have read all of P.D. James' books, from the time they started. And as it happens I am watching some of the old PBS series on DVD again---but finding them a BIT slow. They are quite cerebral. My favorite of all her novels was Innocent Blood. That one was absolutely gripping---and didn't get so bogged down in detail. I'll jot down some of the others you mention. Also, I'm going to look for yours at the library this very afternoon. Ah, those mysteries set in the T'ang Dyn.---I read them ages ago---were the Judge Dee mysteries. Very good--really very readable. You probably know them. I may have read one of the Inspector Ghote books--the name is certainly familiar, but it's been awhile.
I think the problem with Larsson's books is that ultimately, the heroine is not really believable---she's like a super-human Pipi Longstocking. Atomic version! :)
"A super-human Pippi Longstocking"! That's perfect. Wonderful.
I had not read those stories when I was a kid, but there's a direct reference to her in his books---and the protagonists nickname is Kalle Blomkvist, one of Astrid Lindgren's (?) characters---a boy detective. When I read about Pippi Longstocking the similarities were astonishing---including her brains, her insouciance, and her sometimes supernatural strength.
Now, Sandra, that dog-shooting scene is absolutely beyond the pale for me. How dare the kid sacrifice an innocent animal to his own sense of insecurity? It offends against everything I believe in.
I haven't watched it, and I don't intend to---it's just the sort of thing I don't need, if I want my blood pressure to stay down, even if it makes sense in its own context. I guess what it comes down to is that animals (in fiction or out of it) are my Achilles heel. I'm a reasonable person, ˆ know the difference between real and unreal of course, but that's my weak spot. It's where the boundaries blur a little. Even though there are millions of pet lovers in our society, animals are still thought of as expendable. Throw -aways, replaceable if you can't manage it---if they become an inconvenience. So even in fiction I respond to their injury as though it were actual. Nope, I won't watch that movie!

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