By Tim Suddeth
In the 1980s and 90s, I remember being one of the many readers caught up on the speeding train known as The Cat Who . . . series. Lillian Jackson Braun ‘s The Cat Who series introduced us to a former big-city journalist. Jim Qwilleran, who had moved to a small town called Pickax, which was “400 miles north of everywhere.” Which was located in Moose County, no less. In total, she wrote 29 novels for the series. For many years, she had a new book coming out annually, usually just before Christmas. And I couldn’t wait for the next one to arrive. I’m cheap, but this was the one series I collected in hardback.
It was fun to curl up and read of the happenings in and around the small town, sometimes by the lake in the summer, but often with the threat of a town-closing snowfall in the forecast.
I have to admit, it wasn’t so much for the mystery that I was looking forward to. No, her strong points were the settings and the characters in the stories. .
The characters all fit the small town where the snow is measured in feet, not inches. Whether it was the former newspaper editor or Polly, the friend who everyone hoped was the love interest, all the characters were more than cookie cutouts. They had histories, quirks, and usually a motive that we had to wait to learn.
The main character was Qwilleran, Qwill to his friends (how cool is that for a journalist). And everyone he encountered soon became his friend. Qwill had been reluctant to leave the comfort and anonymity of his big city, but one of the stipulations to inheriting a fortune, a large fortune, from his Aunt Fannie w as to live in Pickax , the little town 400 miles north of everywhere, for five years. With all the money he inherited, he could buy more than a heater. And a sweater.
This was the guy we fell in love with. His grumpiness, his mistrust of the small town inhibitions mixed in with a respect for their insights. For a recluse who only wanted to spend time with his cats and his books, he found ways get stuck in the thick of whatever was happening.
Braun brought the places he lived to life; the four-story apple barn that he had turned into a house, the summer cottage by the lake, or the modern condo in the winter. I really wanted to see an interior decorating magazine’s layout of the barn.
Qwill had two secret weapons while investigating the shenanigans going on in his adopted home town; his luxuriant mustache that would tingle when something important was happening, and his cat Kao K’o-Kung (aka Koko). Koko stole the show in many of the stories either by mysteriously providing clues to the crime or finding inventive ways to show his disdain for the current female in Qwill’s life. He probably wouldn’t let the previously mentioned photographer into the house.
The way Koko communicates with Qwil, knocking down books, having a special dance he does only when someone dies, and
bringing “presents” that may have an alternative meaning, makes it ambiguous whether Koko is communicating or Qwill is figuring these things on his own. A neat touch.
If Jack Reacher is what you like in your lead man, Qwill isn’t for you. He is not a man who looks for trouble, but if is lying around he’s not leaving it undisturbed. Any violence in the story is often left to Koko. Who, when anyone starts to give him attention, turns around to wash his heinie.Remembering the Cat Who series Lillian Jackson Braun. #amreading #mysteries Click To Tweet
Lillian Jackson Braun past away in 2011 at the age of 97. She had written for the Detroit Free Press for thirty years before writing the majority of her books after her retirement. Her newspaper experience, the ink under her nails, comes out in her writing.
Her last book, The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers, came out in 2007. Writing when you’re 93, how awesome is that.
One small criticism I have with some of her books were her infatuation with Qwill. One book in particular, she had him moving into a new condo and it was as if she forgot it was supposed to be a mystery. Someone is killed in the end and he quickly wrapped it up in the last few chapters. Sad thing was, I was so caught up in the chaos of the move, I didn’t miss the murder until it happened.
Small town, adorable cats, interesting small town setting, quirky characters, the Cat Who Mysteries are the definition of cozy. They are the perfect books to curl up with as the nights start getting longer and colder in the fall. Just have your blanket handy. Only don’t plan to get up early the next morning.