A few years ago, the Mystery Guild Book Club polled members with the question “Which mystery writer would you rather be stranded on a desert island with?” The winner: Lillian Jackson Braun. The book club didn’t ask why readers voted for her, but anyone who has read Ms. Braun’s novels knows why.
With the exception of the first three novels, which set the stage for the series, each novel is a vacation for the reader to a quirky, arts-loving, small town where the most important edifice is the library. Each novel in the series is a murder mystery, but the violence is off-screen, and the murder presents itself early in the story as a problem to be solved. While solving the murder, the protagonist and the reader learn something about the arts such as painting, ceramics or spinning and weaving, along with drama, history, literature and geography.
As far as I can count, Lillian Jackson Braun has written twenty eight novels in The Cat Who… series starting with The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, published in 1966, and continuing through The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers, published in 2007.
The series starts with the story of Jim Qwilleran, an unemployed journalist who had once been great but whose alcoholism and divorce had derailed his career. Now alone and on the wagon, he hopes to get any job he can, just to pay the rent. Mortified by the fact that he is forced to accept an insignificant column in the features section, he accepts, and in his research he ends up solving a murder. He adopts the victim’s now homeless cat, Koko, who proves to be the most intelligent and entertaining, if not the most well-behaved cat in literature.
The series gets interesting when Jim suddenly finds himself heir to one of the largest fortunes in America, providing that he move to the town of Pickax described as “400 miles north of everywhere.” For Qwilleran, moving to Pickax isn’t near as much of a problem as figuring out what to do with all that money.
The Girlebooks reading list recommends this series for the sheer fun of reading. The beauty of this series is that when you get that lost feeling after reading a really good book you can always pick up the next one.
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