What’s Killing John Doe? Pet Peeves

John Doe toe tagLadies and gentlemen, students of death, welcome to the morgue! Here we will dissect the bodies of readers murdered by their reading. If you’ve read something lately that’s made you want to toss a book across the room or pound your head into the drywall, drop me a line at whatskillingjohndoe@gmail.com. You never know…your body could be next up on the slab!

Today I bring you one victim of multiple animal stories gone awry and one death by boredom.

Victim 1: Jane Doe: Mauled To Death By Unreal Dogs

What’s killing me? Let’s just call it my pet peeve. I hate when authors give characters pets, and then either ignore the pets completely or give the characters traits completely inappropriate for pet owners. Look, I’ve had dogs and/or cats most of my life. I research their vet when I move to a new town, I check references on dog walkers, pet sitters, etc, when I need them.  Why is it that in mystery novels, dogs never need to be walked (unless the owner happens to be home, or the walking is necessary so that the dead body is found), cat litter never needs to be changed, and while the humans may spend hours at dinner, the pets don’t get fed? And if they’re NOT fed, they don’t leave piles of poop around the house or chew up the furniture in retaliation.
And, speaking of that, what’s with the pet’s-point-of-view mysteries? I mean, seriously, I have a pretty good idea what my dog thinks about, and it’s gross.  It’s not Sherlock-level logic, or keeping an eye on the picayune details of people’s clothing. It’s more about sniffing poop and catching birds.  Occasionally, it’s about picking up dead critters from the street when mom’s not looking.
Poor Jane. She didn’t realize that animals in mysteries are often like lovers in romances—all the joy, none of the pain.


Victim 2: John Doe: Died In His Sleep

It kills me when characters spend time having scary dreams just so THEY can wake up panicked.  When I know the monsters are imaginary, there’s nothing at stake, and unless the elements of the dream represent some clever (not heavy-handed) assembly of real-life into new sense, living through someone else’s dreams is usually as dull as drinking tepid water. 

If you’re as talented as George Dawes Green was in The Caveman’s Valentine, I will struggle with and fear the consequences of your imaginary monsters. Otherwise, it reads (to me) as a cheap way to gin up tension without risking anything, and I’m unthrilled.  The few writers who can accomplish such illusions for internal suspense have, unfortunately, convinced a bunch of others it’s a good idea. 

Oh, dear John. He was dreaming of better things when he picked up these books, but when you die in dreams you die in life, and this trumped-up terror did him in.

So don’t forget to write to me when something slays you.  And hey, if it’s so good you die from joy, let me know about that, too! All entries will be kept completely anonymous.


  1. Heather Waters (redline_)

    Great post! My roommate recently got a dog, and I tell ya, he’ll let us know in a heartbeat if he’s hungry/bored/needs to go out. It definitely pulls you out of the story when you realize the characters have a pet just to have one and never actually act like pet owners. Fail.

  2. Laura K. Curtis

    Yeah, redline, I am with you. I have THREE dogs. The old one spends her day thinking things like “I wonder whether I can make it outside before I pee”, the middle one thinks things like “OMG! What’s that thing? Is it going to kill me? Wait, I recognize it now that mom’s put it where it belongs, it’s a garbage bag” And the youngest spends all day trying to figure out what evil thing she can do next.

    Solving crimes? Only if rabbits commit them! LOL!

  3. Clare 2e

    My dogs could track down anything! Well, they could as long as the crown jewels were disguised as, ahem, family jewels. That’s really their area of investigative specialization.

  4. Deborah Lacy

    I totally agree about the pets and the dreams. The dreams are so over done, and I have never understood the pet solving crimes thing.

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