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What So Good About “Normal”?

In my mystery writing, I hope for three things. First, I want to draw the reader into a good story through a plot that builds organically and dialogue as real as an overhead conversation. Next, I aspire to create characters who are deeply flawed but ultimately lovable (like most of us). And finally, I seek to embed perennial questions of humanity for the reader to ponder (or ignore if reading the book while lying on a beach blanket).

Lethal Fetish (the tentative title of my third Riley mystery) probes what it means to be “normal”—and why this condition is desirable. As you might guess from the title, a core element of the story is fetishism which unfolds in a murderous fashion. I don’t mean to suggest that sexual deviancy is inherently dangerous, but that it is swept into the gutter of society (apropos for the realm of noir)—including such disturbing practices as crush fetishism.

A crush fetishist derives sexual pleasure from watching women mash creatures (often insects—you knew there would be an entomological element!) under their feet. These men fantasize about being humiliated/dominated and imagine themselves as the worms, crickets, or newborn mice. Sure, this has a high “yuck” factor, but does our revulsion make it wrong?

Opponents (especially politicians trying to criminalize crush videos) claim that this fetish is repugnant because of how the animals are killed. But this seems disingenuous, given that sticky traps, snap traps, and various poisons are every bit as cruel. Ironically, the leading real-life spokesman for the crush fetishists is a vegetarian, animal rights advocate (the fetishist lacks empathy during crushing because suffering is pleasure; the animal being the means to the ends of his gratification).

The real concern is not how killing happens but why. The moral objection comes down to sexual deviancy—and what it means to be normal. But here, that spokesman (whose argument is reformulated for Riley’s distressing consideration) contends that Americans callously raise and brutally slaughter animals to gratify a sensual craving—the taste of meat. There is no necessity; we simply enjoy the culinary experience. So, who has the higher moral ground: the crush fetishist who derives pleasure from the squashing of insects or the carnivorous consumer who enjoys the flesh of sentient creatures?

Like many of use, Riley seeks a simple answer, but “yuck” doesn’t keep a deeply troubling question from sneaking into our bedrooms and kitchens.

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