September 9 – 15: “Are pets just frills in thrillers? Tell us your favorite thrillers where a pet was an essential part of the plot.” 

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week ITW Members John Dobbyn and J. H. Bográn discuss pets in thrillers: “Are pets just frills in thrillers? Tell us your favorite thrillers where a pet was an essential part of the plot.” You won’t want to miss it!



deadly_diamonds_largeJohn F. Dobbyn, graduate of Harvard College, Boston College Law School, and Harvard Law School was a trial attorney in Boston before becoming a professor of law at Villanova Law School. After 26 short stories appearing in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, he has had four legal thriller novels published by Oceanview Publications. This most recent, DEADLY DIAMONDS, will be released Sept. 3, 2013.

FirefallJ. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the Short Fiction Writers Guild and the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributor editor their official e-zine THE BIG THRILL.

  1. Offhand, I could cite at least ten true incidents of pets rescuing people in life-threatening situations. If it can happen in life with some frequency, it can enter as more than a “frill” in the plot of a thriller novel. In fact, when it is done well, I believe it can strengthen the connection between author and reader by re-affirming the deep dimension of love and trust our pets add to our lives.
    After many suggestions, I finally took my wife’s advice and gave our Shetland Sheepdog a pivotal role in the novel, Black Diamond. It was well within the reasonable response of the dog, and figured in only one scene, but it brought more favorable comments from readers than any other secondary character.
    And that’s the trick. They say “write what you know.” But it is even more tempting to “write what you love.” Is there a dividing line between an author’s use of dogs or cats as a natural integral part of the plot, and the insertion of pets gratuitously because the author just loves to write about them? I. e., “love me, love my dog.”

  2. Interesting point, John. I agree that distinguishing from what we love and what we know can be a very thin line. And I think that is a case for Superhero editors to make the difference regardless of our intent.

    To be honest, this question caught me off guarded and had to scratch my head for a very long time before I could come up with thriller tittles that included pets.

    After much thought, all the titles that took center stage in my mind had the element of pets, but they were hardly any thrillers: Flush, The Art of Racing in the Rain, and so on.

    Of course, the other mental picture I got was of a man seen on a TV screen from the neck down, a light gray jumper suit, issuing threats to the world while petting the back of a white Persian cat.

    In my new novel Firefall, although not properly a pet, I do use a horse with somewhat out-of-character attitudes as the stallion does play an active role to save the life of its ride. By the way, the scene also contains a Copper snake.

    So, does my initial statement in the second paragraph mean that there is a lack of pets in thriller novels nowadays?

    Nah, it just means I need to

  3. Not really thrillers, Jose, but there are mysteries written specifically to appeal to cat-lovers. That’s legit, since the writer makes it plain that she writes for cat people and is one of the clan.
    Another side of writing about animals is the universally accepted taboo about harming a cat or particularly a dog. Is the taboo myth or reality? I have an opinion, but what do others think?

  4. The caution against killing pets is probably more myth than truth. People are just as alarmed about injury to a young child or well-liked character. Many mysteries have pets, but the protagonists of thrillers tend to be busy and on the road too much. Still, as JH suggests, even a quick encounter with an animal can offer insights into character.

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