Category Archives: The Cat Who…

The Cat Who Saw Red and Played Brahms

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I re-read  The Cat Who Saw Red (1986) Lilian Jackson Braun December 3, 2013. The story was still located Down Below (and assigned to the culinary beat this time, despite his attempt to slim down some). Not much to report except the pleasure that comes from light escape reading.

The Cat Who Saw Red
The Cat Who Saw Red
The Cat Who Played Brahms
The Cat Who Played Brahms

With The Cat Who Played Brahms (1987) re-read, the reader gets very , very close to Braun’s real new purpose with this series in the 1980s: to place Jim Qwilleran in Moose county, near Pickax, 400 miles north of Down Below. This book gets him there and closes in on the financial security he achieves from Aunt Fanny and the Klingenschoen estate. From this point, the series picks up with new topics and factoids in many areas; it also establishes the K-fund that will turn Moose county around and give opportunities to others for regional growth.

This Brahms installment focuses on the reality that there are crimes and underhanded dealings everywhere, not just in cities; in fact, probably more . Qwill’s friend Roger extemporizes near the book’s end:

Roger agreed without enthusiasm, “That’s the way it is up here. Everyone knows what’s going on, but no one wants to do anything about it. Everyone is a relative or an old school chum or a war buddy or a member of the lodge…If you don’t mind me saying so, it makes a perfect climate for corruption.” (page 237)

This insight is very close to the verisimilitude that hovers in Stephen King novels.

Concerning the unbelievability of many events Qwill experiences, Braun addresses the probabilities very well for now, and future volumes, as he writes to his friend Arch:

There’s been a little excitement here. We had a B-and-E at the cabin, and Koko bloodied the burglar. I almost got knifed by the same man. He killed one of our neighbors last weekend. Aunt Fanny died suddenly on Thursday, and her houseman shot himself yesterday — in my toolshed. Otherwise it has been a quiet vacation.

There is one little problem. The new assignment sounds great, but I’ve just found out that I’m the sole heir to Aunt Fanny’s sizable fortune. Naturally there’s a catch. I have to live in Pickax. What to do? What to do?

You won’t believe a word of this, and I don’t blame you. (page 244)

But as each new installment unfolds about Moose county and Jim and the Siamese, I believe more and more. (And I hope you do, too.)

Now, on to The Cat Who Played Post Office!

The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern

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The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern (1967) is the 2nd installment of Lillian Jackson Braun’s charming mystery series.

The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern
The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern

The focus this time is on the world of Interior Decorating. Qwill’s new assignment is as editor of a Sunday supplement, Gracious Abodes,  detailing houses and decor. Like the other 2 novels of the 1960s run, this follows the formula Braun has established.

And like the addition of Koko the Siamese cat from the 1st novel, Qwill adds Yum Yum to the duo to make a powerful trio that will sail through this fun series when it returns in the 1980s.

In this installment, the crime resolution is still a bit stiff. The following bit concerning the perusal of a diary that produces a clue illustrates:

But the color of the ink changed around from the first of September. For most of the year it had been blue. Then Noyton switched to black. Signe Tait’s phone number was written in black; it had been added within the last three weeks. (page 75)

But when it comes to details about the topic in the book, in this case interior decor, Braun shines, and that is what really matters to me as her reader:

The merchandise in the window was attractively arranged against a background of kitchen oilcloth in a pink kitten design. There were vases of ostrich plumes, chunks of broken concrete painted in phosphorescent colors, and bowls of eggs trimmed with sequins.  The price tags were small and refined, befitting an exclusive shop… (page 87)

Finding a side panel of a cabinet later is a bit too sudden and tidy for use as she wraps up the mystery; the detail from a photo only stretches the verisimilitude of the result, but that is most forgivable as the other 80 percent of the novel delivers with style, interest, and furry coziness.

As mentioned before in this blog, I began out of order as I meant to read following publication date, but I am back on track now and ready to hop onto the next installation The Cat Who Saw Red — a return to the series almost twenty years later. The wait is well worth it as Braun hones her writing talents, along with sleuthing skills, and sustains them for the next 27 novels.

The Cat Who Could Read Backwards

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The first title in a long mystery series by Lillian Jackson Braun is The Cat Who Could Read Backwards (1966). It features the exploits of Jim Qwilleran, news reporter, and introduces his soon to be Holmes to his Watson —  Kao K’0-Kung, a Siamese cat who ‘”…who was named after a thirteenth-century artist, and he himself has the dignity and grace of Chinese art.”‘ (page 72)

The Cat Who Could Read Backwards
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards

As mentioned in an earlier post, I have begun re-reading this series, in publication order this time although I got off to a false start with issue #3 — but I am back on track now with the initial first episode. This time, the focus is on Modern Art, the Art Market, and the Art Social World in the mid-60s. (It even stages a Happening in Chapter 11!) Really no different that it’s ever been, there are jealousies, double-crosses, and battle sides. (The Art Forger, a 2012 novel by B.A. Shapiro, is a fine update to this social sub-strata that never changes but remains ever engaging to/for the outsider of the art business world.)

In this novel, we meet Jim and Koko for the first time, of course, and how they paired up together: both have prescient whiskers, but Koko’s overrides Qwilleran’s famous and much talked about mustache bristles. Together, they will go far throughout this series that spans from 1966 all the way into the this millennium.

The next volume will introduce us to the third member of this trio: Yum-Yum, another Siamese. There will be a whole new topic to explore, the world of Interior Design, and we’ll learn much about what goes on behind the scenes, and we will continue our exposure to the uncanny ways and habits of the Siamese breed. Oh, yeah, and there’ll be another crime of some sort to solve.

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SPOILER: In this story, O.Narx is really Scrano!!!

The Cat Who Turned On and Off

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I have begun a re-read of Lillian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who…” mystery series. Having read them all before, but in no particular order; now, I now want to experience them in the order they were written and developed (although I have already messed up by starting with the 3rd title. After this, I will start with the first. Here is a Wikipedia link to the titles in publication order: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cat_Who…

The Cat Who Turned On and Off
The Cat Who Turned On and Off

So, here is the 1968 third offering of Jim Qwilleran with his  feline sidekicks  Koko and Yum Yum: The Cat Who Turned On and Off.

The  first three books were written in the late 1960s, where Jim and the cats are just beginning to establish the structure of how these mysteries will flow; also, Jim’s previous life, recovery, and discovery of each cat is set up and explained in depth.

Each novel will give a brief subtle recap of Qwill and the cats’ habits and past. Like most good mysteries, the crime is much less important than the characters, and the characterization grows as it unfolds through each installment. As well, each novel has at least one cultural theme it will explore (usually with several other subtopics.)

This volume is all about the hidden side of the antique trade, located in Junktown, the seemingly seamy part of town, with all of its odd characters, petty jealousies, and undermining interactions. Of special interest to me were the Three Weird Sisters who owned the Three Weird Sisters antique store – very vibrant women and strangely alluring.

Braun ‘s books are rarely sketchy when covering side topics. That is their strengths for my reading tastes. At one point, the reader not only learns how varnishing techniques are done, but also how they can express a crime scene clue (page 210.)

In this particular novel, Braun gives a heart and depth to Junktown that would make Jane Jacobs smile. Here is an except regarding the developers who want to take over and raze this quite quaint district under the guise of gentrification, in reality just a real estate land grab:

“…You see, no one thinks of Junktown as a community of living people — merely a column of statistics. If they would ring doorbells, they would find respectable foreign families, old couples with no desire to move to the suburbs, small businessmen like Mr. Lombardo — all nationalities, all races, all ages, all types — including a certain trashy element that does no harm. That’s the way a city should be — one big hearty stew. But politicians have an á la carte mentality. They refuse to mix the onions and carrots with the tenderloin tips. (page 111)

We learn how Junktowns all over are the saviors and preservers of the past, despite their moral qualms. (While a lofty enterprise, how they acquire and how they sell is really just as opportunistic as the real estate developers’ machinations when all is said and done.)

Koko’s discovery and clues about the culprit in this crime is a bit too thin for me (or even if you think that it is Qwill, instead,  who solves the crime here.) But this part of the series’ formula gets much better when Braun brings it back in the mid-80s and forward. In the first three outings, it seems too cute and too clever for believability.

Each installment is like candy to me; I just eat each one up. A Cat Who… mystery, an afghan, and a cup of coffee are just the offerings that can give me a warm, cozy feeling on a cold winter’s night. All that is physically missing are a cat, or two. I look forward to re-visiting my Moosewood county friends throughout the next five months.

After this volume, Braun took a hiatus until the 80s when the series really took off as Qwill inherited a fortune, moved with the cats to a quaint town 400 miles north if everywhere, and discovered that crimes occur everywhere: murders, swindles, cross-lovers.

How Qwill uses his funds as a philanthropist is as enduring as his off again, but mostly on again, relationship with the town librarian Polly.

And now, on to episode 1 of The Cat Who.. series, read in order from now on: The Cat Who Could Read Backwards (1966) about the world of modern art… (although I am concurrently being distracted by several other titles, most notably Stephen King’s latest Doctor Sleep, a follow-up to The Shining — but more about that later…)