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Between the pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

Killing Animals

For those who are thinking about writing a crime novel, I'd like to share some of the things I've learned along the way. There is currently a lively discussion taking place at one of the mystery writer's internet forums regarding the killing of animals in books. There are many different opinions on the subject.

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 novel, The 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.



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