Re: RARA-AVIS: Bruen and the Tinkers

From: Joy Matkowski (
Date: 17 Mar 2005

Thanks, Karin. Your description of three total tooth removals in The Killing of the Tinkers came just in time for me to pick some other book from the shelves last night. That sort of mayhem sounds like cartoon violence: Wile E. Coyote doesn't really hurt or bleed or suffer long-term disability when he falls off a cliff into a meatgrinder.


Karin Montin wrote:
> . . . what I meant by unnecessarily graphic was that it was just too much
> for me. As in the case of art and pornography, I only know "too much
> violence" when I see it--and unfortunately only afterwards. I certainly
> wouldn't want to be on the committee defining it. And I certainly don't
> expect Ken Bruen or anyone else to start catering to me.
> When I read The Killing of the Tinkers, it was the final straw. If I'd
> read it six months earlier, perhaps I wouldn't have had the same reaction.
> But in any case, I have a thing about teeth being lost through violence.
> For some strange reason, I'd read four books in the previous six months in
> which characters had their teeth intentionally knocked out or extracted,
> and I'd found it very disturbing.
> Bad luck or bad management on my part? I tend to blame luck; if there had
> been any indication of tooth torture on the cover, I'd have steered away.
> You might say that if I'm going to read hardboiled literature, I'm looking
> for trouble. And you'd be right, to a degree.
> Perhaps I'm more susceptible than most to being horrified by tooth
> torture. So these books have stayed with me, and probably not for the
> reasons the authors might have wished.
> The first book was Bad Chili by Joe R. Lansdale. A gay man has his teeth
> kicked out as part of a general beating, but it's explicitly stated that
> the bashers expect an improved oral sex performance from their victim.
> In Family Values by C.D. Constantine, a woman married to a sadist has her
> first couple of teeth knocked out by a punch, and the rest removed by
> pliers. Then guess what she does for her husband, gums still bleeding?
> In Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter, two women have their teeth removed
> with pliers. Lucky them--it's under anaesthetic. Again, sex is a factor.
> The author tells us this is not an uncommon practice among rapists.
> Ken Bruen, in The Killing of the Tinkers, has three men lose their teeth
> violently. One is kicked, the next is knocked in the mouth with a gun and
> the third is tortured with pliers. No sex this time. Thanks, Ken.
> Then Charlie Stella, on a Bouchercon panel, described to general laughter
> how one of his characters, a woman, has her teeth knocked out by having
> her face slammed into the edge of a table. She isn't a "good guy," so it's
> okay. I wish he'd said which book the scene was in, because I'll
> definitely want to avoid that one.
> Is this a trend? Can it be stopped? At Bouchercon I mentioned to Karin
> Slaughter that I'd read three books besides her own in which teeth were
> removed, and she remarked that perhaps it was becoming a clich鮠(She must
> have been at the clich頰anel.) It's my hope that writers perceive it as a
> clich頴o be avoided, because I've about reached my limit.
> Does the scene advance the plot? Develop a character? Contribute to the
> mood? I suppose arguments could be made that the scenes I've described are
> necessary to the story one way or another.
> Is tooth removal worse than kneecap drilling (Kernick, The Murder
> Exchange), crucifixion (Slaughter, Blindsighted), electrical
> overstimulation (McDermid, The Mermaids Singing) or chainsaw mutilation
> (Williams, Deadfolk)? I guess that may be a personal judgment. All I know
> is that I don't want to read any more tooth torture any time soon. So if
> you know any books I should avoid, please tell me the titles (details not
> necessary). (I also don't like eyeballs being damaged.)
> Simon Kernick, at Bouchercon, discussed a scene in The Murder Exchange in
> which someone gets his kneecaps drilled. He said that he thought it was
> funny. His wife told him he had to take it out, but by the time she'd
> persuaded him, his editor was convinced that he had to leave it in. He
> said people could skip the scene. So I read the book, knowing I would skip
> the warehouse chapter. But I glanced at the last page, just to see where
> things ended so I wouldn't be at a loss later on. Mistake. There are worse
> places to apply an electric drill, and the villain does it on the last
> page.
> What do you expect from hardboiled writing? I expect tough characters and
> fast action. Colloquial speech is common, and scathing wit is a big plus.
> I also expect some violence, but not gratuitous sadism and gore. A sock in
> the old kisser is one thing; intentional removal of someone's teeth as a
> means of torture and/or for sexual gratification is another. (I admit that
> gratuitousness is subjective.)
> Some books are more violent than others, yet have redeeming qualities.
> Some writers imply violence very well without leaving horrific images
> seared in your brain for life.
> I think the issue of how much violence (or what kind) is too much is a
> very interesting one and I would like to hear from some of you writers on
> the subject. Is there a line you won't cross?
> In an interview with Ali Karim, Simon Kernick answered that question:
> "I personally wouldn't write a scene that involved gratuitous violence
> against a child or children, because I find that sort of thing too
> shocking. I think a writer has a responsibility to be careful what he or
> she writes, because certain crimes should never be viewed, however
> indirectly, as entertainment. But at the same time, I prefer the idea of
> self-censorship to that of censorship by any other body."

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