One of the first things I heard when I began
attending mystery writer's seminars and conferences
was that when writing crime fiction you never,
ever kill an animal. You can kill your grandmother
but the family cat is safe. I was told that
animal murder was an absolute taboo.
But I'm not so sure that's true. I think it
kinda depends on the story... and the animal.
Writers define villains by their victims. If
a bad guy murders other killers, he's not really
so bad in the eyes of the reader. Look at Vito
Corleone for example; lovable guy but he only
bumped off rival mobsters. Hannibal Lector on
the other hand...
In Edgar Award winning author Doug Allyn's
Burning of Rachel Hayes the protagonist
is a dedicated small town veterinarian who loves
and respects animals. One of the doctor's dogs
sacrifices her life in an heroic effort to save
her master. The author gets away with killing
this dog because she dies for a noble cause,
sorta like John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo
Jima. It is sad but the reader is not appalled
because the circumstances make the dog a martyr.
And then I seem to remember the audience cheering
when the shark got blown up in Jaws.
I doubt that a marauding grizzly bear or mountain
lion would have many fans rooting for them either.
Not all predatory animals are looked at as
being expendable though. An author has license
to change the natural instincts of even the
most tenacious hunter. Remember the wolf in
Dances With Wolves? As I said, it depends
on the animal.
Certain animals are immune to death by pen-stroke.
Bambi would be a good example. And the family
Shih Tzu is probably pretty safe along with
any cat, no matter how arrogant.
My feeling is that animals can be treated much
like humans in murder mysteries with one exception.
The good guys never die.