Braun, Lilian Jackson 1912(?)–
Braun, Lilian Jackson 1912(?)–
PERSONAL: Born c. 1912, in MA; first husband deceased; married Earl Bettinger, 1979.
ADDRESSES: Home—Tryon, NC.
CAREER: Crowley Knower Company, Detroit, MI, freelance advertising copywriter; Ernst Kern Department Store, Detroit, began as advertising copywriter, became public relations director; Detroit Free Press, Detroit, editor, 1948–78; freelance writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: Edgar Award nomination, Mystery Writers of America, 1986, for The Cat Who Saw Red.
"THE CAT WHO …" SERIES; MYSTERY NOVELS
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, Dutton (New York, NY), 1966.
The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern, Dutton (New York, NY), 1967.
The Cat Who Turned On and Off, Dutton (New York, NY), 1968.
The Cat Who Saw Red, Jove (New York, NY), 1986.
The Cat Who Played Brahms, Jove (New York, NY), 1987.
The Cat Who Played Post Office, Jove (New York, NY), 1987.
The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare, Jove (New York, NY), 1988.
The Cat Who Had Fourteen Tales (stories), Jove (New York, NY), 1988.
The Cat Who Sniffed Glue, Putnam (New York, NY), 1988.
The Cat Who Went Underground, Putnam (New York, NY), 1989.
The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts, Putnam (New York, NY), 1990.
The Cat Who Lived High, Putnam (New York, NY), 1990.
The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal, Putnam (New York, NY), 1991.
The Cat Who Wasn't There, Putnam (New York, NY), 1992.
The Cat Who Moved a Mountain, Putnam (New York, NY), 1992.
The Cat Who Went into the Closet, Putnam (New York, NY), 1993.
Three Complete Novels: The Cat Who Saw Red; The Cat Who Played Brahms; The Cat Who Played Post Office, Putnam (New York, NY), 1994.
The Cat Who Came to Breakfast, Putnam (New York, NY), 1994.
Three Complete Novels (contains The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare, The Cat Who Sniffed Glue, and The Cat Who Went Underground), Putnam (New York, NY), 1994.
The Cat Who Blew the Whistle, Putnam (New York, NY), 1995.
The Cat Who Said Cheese, Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.
Three Complete Novels (contains The Cat Who Wasn't There, The Cat Who Went into the Closet, and The Cat Who Came to Breakfast), Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.
The Cat Who Tailed a Thief, Putnam (New York, NY), 1997.
Three Complete Novels (contains The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts, The Cat Who Lived High, and The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal), Putnam (New York, NY), 1997.
The Cat Who Sang for the Birds, Putnam (New York, NY), 1998.
Three Complete Novels (contains The Cat Who Moved a Mountain, The Cat Who Blew the Whistle, and The Cat Who Said Cheese), Putnam (New York, NY), 1998.
The Cat Who Saw Stars, Putnam (New York, NY), 1998.
The Cat Who Robbed a Bank, Putnam (New York, NY), 1999.
The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, Putnam (New York, NY), 2001.
The Cat Who Went Up the Creek, Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.
Three Complete Novels (contains The Cat Who Tailed a Thief, The Cat Who Sang for the Birds, and The Cat Who Saw Stars), Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.
Short and Tall Tales: Moose County Legends Collected by James MacKintosh Qwilleran, Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.
The Cat Who Brought Down the House, Putnam (New York, NY), 2003.
The Private Life of the Cat Who …: Tales of Koko and Yum Yum from the Journals of James MacKintosh Qwilleran, Putnam (New York, NY), 2003.
The Cat Who Went Bananas, Putnam (New York, NY), 2004.
The Cat Who Talked Turkey, Putnam (New York, NY), 2004.
The Cat Who Dropped a Bombshell, Putnam (New York, NY), 2006.
Two Cats, Three Tales (contains The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern, and The Cat Who Turned On and Off), Berkley Books (New York, NY), 2006.
The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers, Putnam (New York, NY), 2007.
Work represented in anthologies, including Mystery Cats: Feline Felonies by Modern Masters of Mystery, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991, and More Mystery Cats, Dutton (New York, NY), 1993. Regular columnist, Lilian Jackson Braun Newsletter; contributor to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
ADAPTATIONS: Many of Braun's books have been adapted to audiotape, including The Cat Who Brought Down the House, Putnam Berkley Audio (New York, NY), 2003, The Private Life of the Cat Who …, Recorded Books (Prince Frederick, MD), 2003; and The Cat Who Talked Turkey, Putnam Berkley Audio (New York, NY), 2004. A trivia book about Braun's characters has been compiled by Robert J. Headrick, Jr., titled The Cat Who—Quiz Book, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Lilian Jackson Braun is author of the mystery series "The Cat Who …" featuring amateur sleuth Jim Qwilleran (known to his friends as Qwill). "Notable for its longevity," remarked Heather Vogel Frederick in a 1998 Publishers Weekly article, Braun's "The Cat Who …" series contains more than twenty-two novels, the majority of which were first released during the 1980s and 1990s. The author "says that keeping the series fresh has never been a problem," reported Frederick. Braun related to Frederick that "the daily antics of her own two cats (Koko III and Pitti-Sing) provide ample grist for the mill." Frederick continued, "Changing the venue for her protagonists and exposing him to different fields of interest also helps."
In a People Weekly review of The Cat That Sang for the Birds, the series' twentieth installment, Cynthia Sanz characterized Braun's mysteries this way: "No gore, no violence and no big surprise…. A healthy peppering of cat shenanigans … make [them] enjoyable." Other reviewers offer similar sentiments. "Braun knows how to make readers feel good," declared Booklist contributors Gilbert Taylor and Jenny McLarin, applauding Braun's decision to give readers "[descriptions] of a delicious meal" instead of "blood and gore." The reviewers, describing as "delightful" The Cat Who Robbed a Bank, lauded the author's "descriptive powers." Carol Barry summarized the series in St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers: "Braun's Cat Who … series succeeds not only because of the dialogue, which flows easily and is never superfluous or boring. Braun is able to grasp the reader's attention quickly and keep it fully engaged throughout the book. Readers can enjoy Braun's books not only for their mystery plots but as stories of witty and entertaining characters, local color, and, of course, the antics of the cats."
The inspiration for her series was inspired by her own pets, Braun has said. Her first husband gave her a Siamese cat that she named Koko in tribute to a character from The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan. Tragically, Koko died in a fall, and Braun's neighbors implied that the cat was killed on purpose. Angry and hurt, Braun decided to work out her emotions by writing a story: "The Sin of Madame Phloi."
Braun began her writing career as an advertising copywriter, then switched to journalism with the Detroit Free Press. During her thirty years at the Free Press, Braun wrote short mystery stories involving cats, many of which appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Eventually, two of these stories were selected to appear in the Best Detective Stories of the Year anthology. When publishing house E.P. Dutton, publisher of the yearly anthology, asked Braun to write a mystery novel involving her cat character, she could not refuse. "The Cat Who …" series was born in 1966 with The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, in which Qwilleran, a respected journalist, investigates treachery and murder within the art community of a Midwest town. Although Anthony Boucher claimed in the New York Times Book Review that Braun "has a great deal to learn about the construction of the mystery novel," he nonetheless concluded that The Cat Who Could Read Backwards is "a highly rewarding first novel" and that Koko is "probably the New Detective of the Year."
Most of the "The Cat Who …" novels are set in the northern Midwest where the series' amateur sleuth Qwilleran has worked for several local newspapers, first in a large city and then in a rural community. Koko, an intelligent Siamese, and the slightly less dynamic Yum Yum, assist Qwilleran in his various exploits as a crimesolving reporter. Braun soon followed up her initial success with The Cat Who Could Read Backwards with two more entries in the series, The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern (taking Qwilleran into the world of interior decorating) and The Cat Who Turned On and Off (involving antique dealers). But after her fourth novel was abandoned by her publisher, Braun focused on her career as an editor at the Detroit Free Press. She retired from the paper in 1978 and, eight years later, she revived her mystery series with The Cat Who Saw Red. Here Qwilleran, who has become a newspaper restaurant reviewer, comes to suspect that a former lover has met with foul play. As the amateur sleuth once again tries to uncover the truth, he suspects that someone is trying to poison Koko and Yum Yum. The popularity of The Cat Who Saw Red showed that Braun's work had lost none of its appeal, and the novel earned an Edgar Award nomination from the Mystery Writers of America in 1986.
In the ensuing years Braun has produced more works in the series. "Braun's ability to introduce and sustain a strong cast of supporting characters keeps the reader eagerly awaiting the next book," wrote Barry, who added: "The murders are both surprising and shocking, but the dialogue, the local color, and the characters make up more of the story than the act of murder itself." In 1988 Braun published The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare, in which Qwilleran, who has inherited a substantial fortune and moved to a mansion, investigates the mysterious suicide of a newspaper publisher. As is usual in the series, the profoundly intuitive Koko proves of considerable use to Qwilleran in his sleuthing. The Cat Who Went Underground, the tenth entry in Braun's series, finds Qwilleran and his cats immersed in considerable intrigue when their vacation is disrupted by the suspicious disappearance of a handyman.
The succeeding mystery, The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts, involves peculiar circumstances at an historical museum in Qwilleran's remote hometown. The action begins when the institution's curator informs Qwilleran of supernatural events at the museum. Her death soon afterward serves as further motivation for Qwilleran to investigate, and he soon uncovers secrets about one of the town's prominent families. The Cat Who Lived High concerns Qwilleran's efforts to help a friend spare an old building from demolition. Attempting to determine the structure's usefulness, Qwilleran decides to live there for the winter, and is soon investigating the murder of a previous tenant. He is assisted by Koko, who uses a board game to help catch the killer.
In The Cat Who Came to Breakfast Qwilleran and the cats investigate strange accidents, including a drowning, an explosion, and a hotel food poisoning at an island resort built near Pickax City. When it seems as if the accidents have been caused by locals intent on stopping development in their community, Qwilleran uncovers the truth. In his review of the novel, a critic for Kirkus Reviews claimed that "like Agatha Christie resolutely keeping up British standards in the face of a shrinking Empire, Braun maintains the forms of the American cozy" mystery story.
Braun's 1995 book, The Cat Who Blew the Whistle, shows the result of her research into railroading. In the book, the model railroad buff president of the Lumber-town Credit Union disappears after an embezzlement is discovered at the credit union. Qwilleran, Koko, and Yum Yum investigate the mystery, while Qwilleran continues his long-standing relationship with librarian Polly Duncan. A Publishers Weekly critic called The Cat Who Blew the Whistle the "best of [the] series." Barbara Duree recognized in a Booklist review that "the author provides enough background information to make new readers feel at home, and devotees of the series will applaud the added interest of railroading language and lore." The Cat Who Said Cheese follows Qwilleran and his cats as they uncover who planted a bomb at a hotel during Pickax City's Great Food Expo. "As always Lilian Jackson Braun spins an amazing tale with her remarkable cats," according to Armchair Detective critic Catherine Nelson.
Other mysteries in Braun's "The Cat Who …" series include The Cat that Sang for the Birds and The Cat Who Robbed a Bank, published respectively in 1998 and 1999. In the former, Qwilleran relocates to Moose County, a remote rural place. Questions are raised surrounding the death of a ninety-three-year-old woman and the fire that appeared to kill her. In The Cat Who Robbed a Bank Qwilleran finds himself in Pickax, Michigan, solving the murder of a jeweler who came on business to a newly refurbished inn. "Yet again, Braun's upbeat prose and amiable characters make her novel the cat's meow of cozies," judged a Publishers Weekly critic who believed that The Cat Who Robbed a Bank will meet the "expectations" of Braun's fans.
As the series continued to build up more than two dozen chapters in the lives of Jim Qwilleran and his Siamese feline companions, critics comfortably labeled the mysteries "cozies" in which the characters and smalltown setting are more significant than the rambling plots and offstage murders. Entering the twenty-first century with The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, the author has by now settled Qwill down in the town of Pickax, where he writes a column and lives off a considerable inheritance. A series of arsons pose a mystery in the little town in this installment. The townspeople therefore decide to form a Citizens' Fire Watch, and when one of the volunteers is shot, the arson mystery becomes even more serious. Still, as a Publishers Weekly writer observed, readers will mostly "enjoy being back with old friends and will be intrigued by the eccentric new additions to Pickax." Similar observations were made about The Cat Who Went Up the Creek, in which Qwill agrees to sleep over at a supposedly haunted Victorian home and the reporter looks into a murder at the adjacent cabin. "As usual, the various mysteries and their ultimate solutions matter a lot less than the smalltown doings of the author's irresistible characters," commented a Publishers Weekly critic. Gossip about the return of former actress Thelma Thackery to Pickax, the suspicious death of her twin brother, who is a vet there, and the kidnapping of several parrots form the center of The Cat Who Brought Down the House. GraceAnne A. deCandido reflected favorably on Braun's "intensely mild-mannered mysteries" in her Booklist review, claiming about The Cat Who Went Up the Creek, "it is hard to conceive of a more dulcet whodunit."
With The Cat Who Went Bananas and The Cat Who Talked Turkey, some reviewers felt that Braun shoots somewhat off the mark. In the former, Qwill becomes jealous of the actor Alden, who is working for Qwill's rather platonic girlfriend, Polly. The mystery involves the strange death of Alden's wife in a shooting and the thespian's unexpected marriage to an older, wealthy woman, but a Publishers Weekly critic felt that too much extraneous plotting in the novel weakens it, averring that "this cozy series has become a shadow of its former self." Jenny McLarin, writing for Booklist, admitted: "Some of the mystery is never resolved, but it hardly matters," adding that Braun's "stellar cast of characters" make the book. The Cat Who Talked Turkey "isn't quite up to the standard of earlier entries, but it still provides plenty of escapist fun," according to one Publishers Weekly contributor. Much of the story concerns Qwill preparing a reenactment of a 1913 blizzard for a radio show. "The several murders committed here are really beside the point," wrote Ilene Cooper in Booklist, and, "in fact, except for the cat screeching you might miss them entirely."
Braun got back on firmer footing, according to reviewers, with her 2006 addition to her popular series, The Cat Who Dropped a Bombshell. The town of Pickax is gearing up for its sesquicentennial celebration, while Qwill decides to help Harvey Ledfeld with an art project by allowing the young man to sketch his home. Koko, however, soon perceives that Harvey is up to mischief, and when the orphaned Harvey's aunt and uncle die suddenly, suspicions mount. "No mystery to speak of," remarked a Kirkus Reviews critic, "but cat-loving fans of Braun's Moose County saga … will no doubt enjoy the latest from Pickax." McLarin, writing again for Booklist, concluded that the "series remains as comforting as a warm cat in your lap on a rainy day."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Armchair Detective, fall, 1991, Catherine Nelson, "The Lady Who …," pp. 388-398.
Booklist, December 1, 1994, Barbara Duree, review of The Cat Who Blew the Whistle, p. 635; October 1, 1999, Jenny McLarin and Gilbert Taylor, review of The Cat Who Robbed a Bank, p. 308; October 1, 2001, Candace Smith, review of The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, p. 342; October 15, 2002, Karen Harris, review of The Cat Who Went Up the Creek, p. 437; December 1, 2002, GraceAnne A. deCandido, review of The Cat Who Brought Down the House, p. 627; November 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of The Cat Who Talked Turkey, p. 547; December 15, 2004, Jenny McLarin, review of The Cat Who Went Bananas, p. 710; December 15, 2005, Jenny McLarin, review of The Cat Who Dropped a Bombshell, p. 26.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1994, review of The Cat Who Came to Breakfast, p. 18; November 15, 2005, review of The Cat Who Dropped a Bombshell, p. 1212.
New York Times Book Review, March 6, 1966, Anthony Boucher, review of The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, p. 38.
People Weekly, February 16, 1998, Cynthia Sanz, review of The Cat that Sang for the Birds, p. 28.
Publishers Weekly, January 16, 1995, review of The Cat Who Blew the Whistle, p. 440; October 19, 1998, Heather Vogel Frederick, "Lilian Jackson Braun," p. 42; December 20, 1999, review of The Cat Who Robbed a Bank, p. 60; November 27, 2000, review of The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, p. 57; November 19, 2001, review of The Cat Who Went Up the Creek, p. 51; December 1, 2003, review of The Cat Who Talked Turkey, p. 43; November 22, 2004, review of The Cat Who Went Bananas, p. 41.