March 20 – 26: “Adorable and sweet animals can turn nasty. Can these transformations backfire?

thriller-roundtable-logo5Adorable and sweet animals can turn nasty. A classic example is The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock. This week ITW Members Larissa Reinhart, Toni LoTempio and J. H. Bográn discuss whether or not these transformations can backfire?


A 2015 Georgia Author of the Year Best Mystery finalist, Larissa Reinhart writes the Cherry Tucker Mystery and Maizie Albright Star Detective series. The first in the Cherry Tucker series, PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY, is a 2012 Daphne du Maurier finalist, 2012 The Emily finalist, and 2011 Dixie Kane Memorial winner. She and her family live in Nagoya, Japan, but call Georgia home. You’ll sometimes see them as a rerun on HGTV’s House Hunters International.


While Toni Lotempio does not commit – or solve – murders in real life, she has no trouble doing it on paper. Her lifelong love of mysteries began early on when she was introduced to her first Nancy Drew mystery at age 10 – The Secret in the Old Attic. She (and ROCCO, albeit he’s uncredited) pen the Nick and Nora mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime – the first volume, MEOW IF ITS MURDER, debuted Dec. 2, 2014. Followed by #2, CLAWS FOR ALARM. #3, CRIME AND CATNIP, is out this December. She, Rocco and Maxx make their home in Clifton, New Jersey, just twenty minutes from the Big Apple – New York.


J. 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. His debut novel TREASURE HUNT, which The Celebrity Café hails as an intriguing novel that provides interesting insight of architecture and the life of a fictional thief, has also been selected as the Top Ten in Preditors & Editor’s Reader Poll. FIREFALL, his second novel, was released in 2013 by Rebel ePublishers. Coffee Time Romance calls it “a taut, compelling mystery with a complex, well-drawn main character.” He’s a member of the Short Fiction Writers Guild, Crime Writer’s Association, and the International Thriller Writers. He lives in Honduras with his family and one “Lucky” dog.

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  1. Absolutely! Several good examples of this come to mind.
    Take Stephen King’s Cujo. Cujo used to be a big friendly dog, but that all ends on the day this nearly two-hundred-pound Saint Bernard makes the mistake of chasing a rabbit into a hidden underground cave, and gets bitten by a rabid bat. Now Cujo is no longer himself as he is slowly overcome by a growing sickness, one that consumes his mind even as his once affable thoughts turn uncontrollably and inexorably to hatred and murder.
    King was at his best writing about animals gone bad. Another good example is Pet Sematery. When Dr. Louis Creed takes a new job and moves his family to the idyllic and rural town of Ludlow, Maine, this new beginning seems too good to be true. Yet despite Ludlow’s tranquility, there’s an undercurrent of danger that exists here. Those trucks on the road outside the Creed’s beautiful old home travel by just a little too quickly, for one thing…as is evidenced by the makeshift pet cemetery out back in the nearby woods. And when the family pet cat is run over by one of those trucks, and Louis ventures into the pet sematery in an attempt to resurrect a beloved family pet, it starts a chain of doom and destruction.
    There was also a reality show, “When Good Pets Go Bad”, which contains footage of many types of animals, including horses, dogs, house cats, big cats, moose, deer, cattle, primates and reptiles. Animals are shown reacting in response to stimuli such as objects being thrown at them, the presence of television cameras, humans approaching mothers with young or during the breeding season, cage doors being opened or unexpected human gestures.
    Cats are an animal usually associated with villians, for example:
    • Ernst Stavro Blofield, the Bond villain first played by Donald Pleasance in the 1967 film You Only Live Twice, had a fluffy white cat he’d stroke while explaining his evil plans for world domination.
    • Dr. Evil, in the Austin Powers movies, also has a feline companion, the hairless Mr. Bigglesworth.
    • In the original novel The Hundred and One Dalmations, iconic villainess Cruella de Ville has a white Persian cat.
    While not bad themselves, the association is there. (Not cats in my series, though.  Toby and Nick are sleuths, sometimes better ones than their human counterparts)

  2. There’s nothing creepier than innocence turned evil and what better way than turning man’s best friend against him? Even when they’re not the main villain, animals are a great way to reflect mood and provide tension, particularly when the story humans, typically wrapped up in their own problems, are not yet aware of the lurking evil.

    How can this backfire? One way is to have the animals not stay true to their nature. Animals can be smart and cunning, but even turned evil, they can’t make human-like decisions (unless your genre is scifi/fantasy). The shark in JAWS didn’t go looking for the Orca (Shaw’s ship) so he could defeat Brody personally. They had to bait it with chum.

    There also needs to be a story-logic explanation for your sweet animal turned evil. Cujo was bitten by a rapid bat. In THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON, the lurking bear was just a bear, confronted with a lost, near-dead child. Hello, easy dinner, said the bear.

    In any story, there needs to be a reflection of the villain in the hero to make their battle worthy, but also to better show us the treachery of the villain. Animal villains, too, need some kind of symbolic balance to be more effective. In THE BIRDS, you have the lovebirds, who remain peaceful in their cage throughout. They also represent the caged hero and heroine lovebirds, Melanie and Mitch, and despite the horror of the birds Melanie encounters, when she finally escapes, she takes the peaceful lovebirds with her.

    I always have animals in my books and although they’re meant to be entertaining, they’re either antagonistic, like Tater the goat in the Cherry Tucker series, or symbolic for the heroine, like the chaotic pack of Jack Russells in the Maizie Albright Star Detective series. In my fifth Cherry Tucker Mystery, THE BODY IN THE LANDSCAPE, my amateur sleuth sought a killer at a hunting reserve setting. The object of the hunt, a destructive, giant wild hog, became another antagonist for Cherry. I made sure this rampaging, vicious hogzilla was balanced with a loyal, friendly hunting dog, Buckshot, who became Cherry Tucker’s sleuthing partner. Alternatively, Buckshot reminded Cherry of her dead grandmother’s dog, Daisy. The hogzilla represented the turmoil in her personal life and Buckshot the loyalty and stability she sought in a partner. Hogzilla also represented the evil lurking in the woods and Buckshot the dogged determinism of Cherry to root it out.

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  4. I was reluctant to participate in this question because, let’s face it, the creatures I use as murder weapons in my new novel Poisoned Tears are as far from cute as they can be. There’s a scorpion on the cover artwork for crying out-loud! 🙂

    Then I remembered my friend Toni and her series with sleuth detective cat and realized she should participate. I was glad I invited and her response was awesome.

    My fellow author Larissa makes valid points in her discourse, as well. And yes, when cute turns evil the first animal that comes to mind is Cujo. The second one is that loyal rat that kept Ron Weasley company for many years until it turnes out to be a person.

    I particularly love it when animals have this little distinct attitude, even if it turns out to be twisted. My wife had a bad experience with a cat when she was a child. A cat scratched her lip turning her into a dog person for the rest of her life. In fact, I used that anecdote as inspiration for a short story titled “The Compromise.”

    Now, I’m just hoping we can get delete the newfound spam comment.

  5. I have to confess I’m not big on reading books or seeing movies where dogs or cats are either evil or die. 🙂 The best irony I can think of is if someone trains a dog to kill and it backfires and kills the trainer instead of the target; unfortunately, no specific novel or movie where this happens comes to mind at the moment. 🙂

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