Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Writing taboos...

The book under discussion at last night's Book Club meeting was The Ape House by Sara Gruen. Now, we're a lively bunch, usually disagreeing all over the place. But we were fairly unanimous about this one. It was a very difficult read. In fact, some didn't finish it. And those who did felt the ending tied it up nicely. But, it's not a book I'd read over again.

The reason? Not the writing, which was good, nor the premise about being able to communicate with bonobos. But rather, what happened to the apes. As one member reminded us, this is fiction. However, I have no doubt whatsoever that apes and other wild creatures are treated in very inhumane ways, whether for a true scientific goal or because it furthers someone's avarice. I do not like nor want to read about cruelty to animals. And don't you dare kill one just to further the plot, not that Gruen was doing that.

There's an old saying, don't kill a cat in a mystery. Certain death for the novel. I'll extend that to dogs as well. And I don't think that's because so many of us are cat and dog owners. It's because such inhumane behaviour is unnerving to read about. Probably because we do know it happens.

On the other hand, at Bloody Words and in fact, the panel discussion Mary Jane Maffini blogged about last week, Anthony Bidulka replied to the question about how to ramp up the pace -- "kill, kill, kill". He didn't mean totally and unrealistically increase the body count. He was talking about things like cars. How about a computer? He did admit to killing a cat in one of his Russell Quant novels, only to receive an email from a now 'former' fan who quit reading at that point and refused to read any more of his books. As Anthony pointed out, had he but read on a bit longer, the cat wasn't dead at all. Anthony knew -- never kill a cat!

Cosies, more than other sub-genres, come with a built-in set of taboos. No excessive violence, sex or foul language being some of them. We are writing to please the reader, after all. It's entertainment.

What are some taboos that turn you off a book or author? Please be candid. Your answer may save a writer's career!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase
A Killer Read coming April, 2012
from Berkley Prime Crime


  1. I can't bear stories in which the sleuth acquires a dog in order to have it discover the body or some important clue and once that's done, the dog is forgotten. I once threw a book across the room when the sleuth walked the dog in the morning, put it in the house and then flew off to Las Vegas for a few days of investigation. Ack!

  2. I get riled about implausibility, e.g. bad guy coming after the (weapon-less) amateur female sleuth. Just as he comes up behind her with knife ready to plunge, the heel on her pump breaks sending the lunging bad guy over her back and into on-coming traffic.

    Similar issues with 'useful' coincidences
    in plots.