Monday, April 16, 2012
It's a real sadness for me that since Lucy, the most beautiful and charming Dalmatian in the world, died at fourteen a bit over a year ago, we've decided that with regular visits to grandchildren at the other end of the country, business trips to London and quite a bit of travel too it wouldn't be fair to get another one. Anyway, I don't think I'm brave enough now to sign on for 'giving my heart to a dog to tear.'
But I can have dogs in my books. A collie named Meg is a permanent fixture in my crime series and my favourite ever email came from a reader in Toronto who had loved a greyhound character in my book Lamb to the Slaughter and on the strength of it went out and got herself a retired greyhound whom she adores. Christine, if you should happen to be reading this I'd love to know how Nike is!
Received wisdom has it that whatever violence happens in your book, readers just won't stand for you killing a dog. People seem not to care too much about happens to the unfortunate human characters, but dogs are different. Horses too; I've never forgotten a Crime Writers conference when we were shown blood-curdling images of various unpleasant ways in which humans could die and no one batted an eyelid as we all scribbled the useful technical details in our notebooks. It was only when the picture of a horse hit by a car came up that there was a stir of dismay and gasps of horror came from all round the room.
So I find myself in a dilemma. In a book I'm working on just now, there is a devil dog, perverted to be a killer by its evil owner. It is wholly dangerous and no amount of retraining could convert it into a household pet. Any future it could have would be a miserable life in a secure kennel and in any case that would hardly be a plausible outcome.
Killing it at the end is the obvious solution. For the integrity of the plot I think I will have to do it, though I dread the hate mail and the readers vowing never to read anything else I write. Not only that, I dread doing it. Yes, while I have become used to having fictional human blood on my hands, dogs really aren't the same.
Maybe I could just write a different book.