Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: murder

Hey authors, don’t kill the dog!

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In this guest article, animal behaviorist and author Amy Shojai examines the peril novelists face if one of their murder victims has four legs.

I’m a dog lover (and a cat lover) and I adore reading fiction that includes unique pet characters or animal plots interwoven in a creative and believable way. But don’t you dare, kill the dog…or I’m liable to lob that book into a dumpster and cross you off my TBR list. And I’m not alone.

My perspective isn’t purely emotional, either. As a certified animal behavior consultant, I deal every day with pet owners who desperately need help understanding and solving their pet peeves. I address these issues directly in my nonfiction pet books, and in my thrillers, animal behavior remains intrinsic to the plot.

My September Day thriller series features an animal behaviorist and her service dog Shadow, a German Shepherd Dog with his own viewpoint chapters. Both September and Shadow go through hell. Shadow even has his own story arc and has such a presence, the series would die should he become a victim of the antagonist. There are other animal characters introduced peripherally, along with veterinary or animal welfare plots, and in the real world, I know all tooShow-and-Tell-pet-novel well bad things happen.

Including pets can be lazy writing

Killing pet characters is a furry line I won’t cross, not just because it hurts my heart. It can be bad business, and too often is simply a lazy shortcut to demonstrate the antagonist’s level of “evil.” At the other extreme, writers may be advised to give their hero a pet to make the protagonist more likeable.

Honestly, I have to argue that it’s not owning the pet, but the relationship with that animal (or any other character) that makes the hero likeable or the antagonist unlikeable and unsympathetic. A pet character in a story opens an opportunity to show a relationship, and that, indeed, will broaden a character’s depth and the reader’s engagement.

But when pets are used as a prop, interjected simply as a label like “red headed killer” or “dog loving taxi driver” or the tired old ploy “serial killer starts by killing pets,” there’s no relationship. You want that relationship, so readers care, and good writers ensure that readers are vested in what happens to their story characters including the pets. Killing the pet, however, after the reader becomes emotionally invested, betrays the reader’s trust in a horrific way. Done purely for shock or as a shortcut, killing pets in novels is a cheap shot pet-loving readers rarely forgive. Here’s why.

Why killing pets backfires

Today, pets are considered to be members of the family, in some cases surrogate children. Just as many readers become offended by fiction that details “on-stage” murder/mayhem directed at children, so too, are they offended by the same directed toward pets. Continue Reading →

Today’s flash fiction mystery

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With apologies to Lawrence Block for taking the title of his crime series, here is today’s flash fiction mystery–at exactly 100 words.

Hit Man

“This lawyer my wife used to know–name’s Murphy–said you might be able to help.  I really don’t want to, but I’ve got no choice. My wife says she hates me for what I did. Won’t forgive me. Says she’ll kill me. But she won’t give me a damn divorce. I dunno why I’m telling you this. See, this is my only way out. So, can you do a contract or tell me who can?”

“What’d you say the name was?”

“Hemings, Julia Hemings.”

“I mean your name.”

“George Hemings, why?”

“Oh, I have a contract. Thanks for coming.”

A look back at Elmore Leonard,          America’s best crime writer?

Elmore Leonard’s death last year sparked a wave of, not only glowing obituaries, but retrospective articles on his large body of work.  When he died in August, he was working on his 46th novel.  If you’re not familiar with him, several recent articles in print and online provide a good introduction and suggestions for reading (and viewing) Leonard’s work.

Identified as a crime writer–and before that a writer of westerns–Leonard transcended genres, some reviewers say, raising his literary esteem several notches.

“Many critics argued that, if anything, the reference to the genre slighted his contributions,” says Christopher Orr in the current issue of The Atlantic.  “Martin Amis described him as ‘a literary genius’ and ‘the nearest America has to a national writer,’” says Orr.

Born in New Orleans, Leonard and his family moved to Detroit where he went to school and graduated from the University of Detroit with a degree in English and philosophy.  From there he became an advertising copywriter until his novels started to pay off.  He began writing westerns, but as the popularity of that genre faded in the late 1960s, he switched to crime, the territory for which he’s best known.Elmore Leonard

Sidestepping the crime novels, a New York Times Magazine article at the end 2013 focused on the westerns.   Had the market for westerns not dried up, writes Charles McGrath, Leonard might have continued with them for the rest of his career.

“Leonard’s westerns are not just good for their kind.  They’re good, period: spare, taut, soundly constructed,” says McGrath.

“Leonard’s goal, unlike that of so many self-consciously literary young men back then, was not The New Yorker but The Saturday Evening Post, which paid better and was read by more people,” McGrath writes.  “He cracked it only once, in April 1956, with a story called Moment of Vengeance.”

Many of Leonard’s stories and novels, including the westerns, became motion pictures, but, says Orr in The Atlantic, many of the movies were bad.

“If the sheer number of Leonard adaptations is remarkable, what is more remarkable still is how few of them are any good,” he says.

In his seemingly overly critical analysis, Orr says that the early movie adaptations of his–“3:10 to Yuma,” “The Tall T,” “Hombre”–were successful but that when Leonard turned to crime writing, “studios lost their knack for translating him to the screen.”

More than two dozen movies were based on Leonard’s books.  They provide plenty of raw material for criticism.  Orr praises the successful “Get Shorty” as one of the best and its sequel, “Be Cool,” as one of the failures.

“Get Shorty” is surely one of his most popular and critically acclaimed novels, not a bad place to start reading. For other suggestions, two recent online articles, one in the Huffington Post and another on Litreactor.com, list Leonard’s “ten best.”  Eight of his books, including “Get Shorty,” “52 Pickup” and “Killshot” appear on both lists.

Hyperlinks:

The Elmore Leonard Paradox by Christopher Orr   The Atlantic  

 Leonard obit by Charles McGrath in New York Times Magazine

 Huff Post picks ten best Leonard novels

 Mini reviews of 10 best Leonard novels in Litreactor.com  

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