By Ruth (Monty’s mom)
Having read and enjoyed every single book of “The Cat Who” series by Lillian Jackson Braun, I looked forward to sharing my love of these mystery novels with visitors to PoC. However, I am saddened to have just learned that the author of these wonderful cat books passed away in 2011, just prior to her 98th birthday. Her long life gave her great insight into cat behavior and human nature, as well as extensive knowledge on a variety of subjects, which she incorporated into her books. I felt I was always learning something while reading a new “Cat Who” book.
The series began back in the 1960’s, but it seemed to Braun that the market for mystery novels at the time was not right for her books, since most mysteries featured a lot of sex and violence. However, she started writing them again in the 1980’s and they became very popular, especially among cat lovers. She lived with Earl Bettinger, her second husband, and their two cats, dedicating each book to “Earl Bettinger the husband who…”
The main character of her novels, James Mackintosh Qwilleran, has this to say about cats:
“Cats are cats…the world over. These intelligent, peace-loving, four-footed friends—who are without prejudice, without hate, without greed—may someday teach us something.”
Qwilleran lives with two cats, Koko and Yum-Yum. Koko is short for “Kao K’o-Kung. Both cats are Siamese, and for the most part only Koko helps solve mysteries. Koko is, or may be, supernatural. The reader is always left wondering whether Koko knew what he was doing unearthing a clue, or whether it was just normal feline behavior on Koko’s part that pointed Qwilleran in the right direction to solve the crime.
The earlier books have Qwilleran living in a big city, the name of which is never given, but it is probably in the Great Lakes area of the United States. In later books he moves to Moose County, which is 400 miles north of everywhere, but again probably in the area of Lake Superior or northern Lake Michigan. He inherits a fortune from his Aunt Fanny and becomes a billionaire. I suppose critics could fault Braun for creating such an implausible scenario.
But to me the books become more fun after Qwilleran doesn’t have to worry about money. He has more time to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong and uncover mysteries. He has a “luxurious moustache” which causes a tingling on his upper lip when something is not birthday. I knew she was elderly, but I had not learned of her quite right, and this leads him to investigate where others see nothing as being amiss.
Cat lovers who are not into mystery stories would enjoy “The Cat Who” series because of the amount of material dedicated to Qwilleran’s everyday life with two Siamese cats. He is a very good cat caretaker, often worrying about his cats. There are some tight situations, in which his cats are put into danger or potential danger, which really get my heart racing to read them. Although there is always a happy, or mostly happy, ending, Braun’s books can be somewhat melancholy. The joy Qwilleran gets from his life with two very special cats is often tinged with sadness, either from memories of earlier, less happy times in his life, or from reflecting on the tragedy which happens in the lives of those around him. The sadness doesn’t overwhelm.
To me, it creates stories that are very much like real life, making the books very believable and real, even when there are elements of the plot that seem improbable, such as Qwilleran’s large inheritance from an aunt he barely knew.
I would recommend “The Cat Who” books for cat lovers, and I envy those who have not yet read any of these excellent novels. I remember waiting expectantly for the newest “Cat Who” book to come out, because each time it was like re-entering a whole world. Moose country is an enjoyable place to visit and a great change of pace for those of us stuck living in the big city “down below” (as residents of Moose County say.) When I have the opportunity to travel to northern Wisconsin I sometimes think of Moose County and wonder if living up north would be like living there. Of course it would never be the same without Qwilleran and his two remarkable Siamese cats.
By Ruth and Monty (who says he is the only Cat Who matters, so stop typing and pay attention to him already!)