The Cat Who... series consists of a number of murder mysteries written by Lilian Jackson Braun, starring veteran crime journalist Jim Qwilleran (Yes, that's how it's spelled) and the two Siamese cats he adopts, Kao K'o Kung (abbreviated to Koko) and Yum Yum. The series begins with his life in an unnamed city as he is given assignments on odd beats, such as art or food criticism, and uncovers murders. Being what he is at heart, Qwill can never leave well enough alone once his mustache starts twitching....After five or six books, though, the series moves away from the city and into the northern part of America, into an area known as Moose County. Initially, he's visiting for a vacation, but things take a turn for the worse when his "aunt" Fanny Klingenschoen is the Body of the Week. He then, after solving the crime, inherits her money, with the provision that he live in Moose County for five years.The series began in the late 1960s, but after three books, there was an 18 year break before any more titles were published, ending when Braun's husband Earl Bettinger read the original stories and encouraged her to give it another try. Since then, future books in the series have been dedicated to "Earl Bettinger, The Husband Who..." The final book in the series, The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers, was published in 2007. Another installment, The Cat Who Smelled Smoke, was scheduled for 2008 and later 2009, but then canceled by the publisher. Born in 1913, author Lilian Jackson Braun was nearly 100 years old and her advanced age prevented her from completing the book. She passed away in 2011, leaving the series unfinished.See also Midnight Louie, a series by Carole Nelson Douglas that draws much influence from this one, featuring a hard-boiled feline private eye as a first-person narrator at times. Not to be remotely confused withThe Cat Who Walks Through Walls, an entirely different sort of book by Robert A. Heinlein.
Novels in this series
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards (1966)
The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern (1967)
The Cat Who Turned On and Off (1968)
The Cat Who Saw Red (1986)
The Cat Who Played Brahms (1987)
The Cat Who Played Post Office (1988)
The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare (1988)
The Cat Who Sniffed Glue (1988)
The Cat Who Went Underground (1989)
The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts (1990)
The Cat Who Lived High (1990)
The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal (1991)
The Cat Who Moved a Mountain (1991)
The Cat Who Wasn't There (1992)
The Cat Who Went Into the Closet (1993)
The Cat Who Came to Breakfast (1994)
The Cat Who Blew the Whistle (1995)
The Cat Who Said Cheese (1996)
The Cat Who Tailed a Thief (1997)
The Cat Who Sang for the Birds (1998)
The Cat Who Saw Stars (1999)
The Cat Who Robbed a Bank (2000)
The Cat Who Smelled a Rat (2001)
The Cat Who Went Up the Creek (2002)
The Cat Who Brought Down the House (2003)
The Cat Who Talked Turkey (2004)
The Cat Who Went Bananas (2005)
The Cat Who Dropped a Bombshell (2006)
The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers (2007)
Tropes featured in these books include:
Anyone Can Die: Being beloved by the readers will not save a character from dying. Sometimes they're murdered, but there are also fatal car accidents, heart attacks, and just plain old age.
Appeal To Worse Problems: One time when Koko and Yum-Yum turn up their noses at the food he gives them, Qwill makes some reference to there being cats in another country that don't know where their next mouse is coming from. It makes no difference whatsoever.
Author Appeal: Lilian Jackson Braun loved cats, and owned her own set of Siamese — who were always named Koko and Yum Yum.
Author Avatar: Qwilleran could represent Lilian Jackson Braun herself to a large degree. Like Qwilleran, she had no children, and enjoyed living a simple life without much public attention, despite her wealth and accomplishments. That, and the fact that both live(d) with Siamese cats.
Baby Talk: Polly tends to talk this way to Bootsie, much to the chagrin of Qwilleran, who treats his Siamese as sophisticated and intelligent. Polly's behavior improves once she renames Bootsie to Brutus.
Bilingual Bonus: Qwill and Polly always end their phone conversations with "à bientôt."
Bizarrchitecture: To an extent, Qwill's summer home, a converted apple barn on the Klingenschoen property, which many characters compare with the Guggenheim Museum.
Blatant Lies: Fanny Klingenschoen told many of them, but the biggest would have to be the various fibs she told about how to get into her will (e.g. she would leave money to anyone who was named after her). When she dies and leaves everything to Qwill, the locals are rather understandably angry until he sets up the foundation that disperses the money.
Canon Discontinuity: The 29th book in the series, The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers, was widely regarded as this by many fans who were outraged at the sudden and unexplained changes to the well-loved landscape of the stories.
The City vs. the Country: Qwilleran is a big-city journalist who moves to a small town in Moose County under the terms of his Aunt Fanny's will. Several early novels in the series detail his adjustment (and that of his cats).
Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Elizabeth Hart sort of appears this way to the natives of Moose County. She's very intelligent, and rather down-to-earth despite her wealthy background, but she's got very different interests than most of the other characters.
Constantly Curious: Baby in The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts. Unfortunately, it led to her getting seriously injured, though she got better.
Cool Old Guy: Homer Tibbett, the nonagenarian expert on local history.
Cool Old Lady: Fanny Klingenschoen, Qwill's mother's best friend, who leaves him her millions.
Development Hell: The Cat Who Smelled Smoke, the planned 35th installment (including special projects) in the series. Originally scheduled for 2008, then 2009, then canceled.
Diary: Braun sometimes allows the story to be told from Qwilleran's perspective through personal journal entries or audio recordings; it generally works very well when she does.
Disappeared Dad: Qwill knows very little about his father, who died while his mother was pregnant. In one book, he learns what happened. His father, an out-of-work actor with a penchant for alcohol, was shot by police officers while committing a robbery.
Disguised in Drag: The murderer in one story is revealed to be a man who had been masquerading as a woman.
Drowning My Sorrows: Qwill, prior to the start of the series, although he later swears off alcohol.
Early-Installment Weirdness: The first three books in the series were written in The Sixties, and then nothing else was done with it until almost 20 years after the publication of the third book. Those who were introduced to the series via the later novels may find the originals somewhat odd; the books were written to be contemporary, meaning that overnight Qwill jumped from 1968 to 1986. The first three books contain, for instance, 1960s slang terms which may be a bit jarring to a modern reader.
Embarrassing First Name: James Mackintosh Qwilleran had his name legally changed. Few characters - possibly none other than Arch Riker - know that his birth name was Merlin James Qwilleran.
Polly's real name is Hippolyta, and she mentions that her "poor sister Ophelia" had a rough time of it in school.
Everything's Louder With Bagpipes: Police Chief Andrew Brody, like many characters in the series, is of Scottish descent and is known to give stirring bagpipe performances at public events, weddings, and funerals.
Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: As noted above, the first three novels were written back in the 1960s, and Qwilleran smoked a pipe, which was considered to add character. Flash-forward to the 1980s when new books in the series started being published again. A lot more was known about the dangers of smoking and Qwilleran was convinced to drop the pipe. Not only that, but once he stopped smoking, he developed an aversion to tobacco smoke in all forms.
Gosh Hornet: Kills the murderer in The Cat Who Said Cheese.
Green-Eyed Monster: Jealousy is described as Polly Duncan's primary flaw. Once Qwilleran starts dating her, he is wholly committed to her. This doesn't stop Polly, however, from being jealous of very nearly any other woman that he spends time with, or expresses an interest in him. (It also doesn't stop her from occasionally going out with other men.)
Happily Married: Arch Riker and his second wife Mildred; the Tibbetts; Junior and Jodie Goodwinter; and a few of the other couples in the books.
Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Liz Hart only appears tiny next to her boyfriend, Derek Cuttlebrink, who is seven feet tall.
The Hyena: Celia Robinson, who has a loud, musical laugh and laughs even at Qwilleran's mildest quips. In The Cat Who Blew the Whistle, Qwilleran introduces to her the idea of "fine-tuning" her laugh.
I Am Not Weasel: In The Cat Who Blew the Whistle, the guy working on Polly Duncan's house refers to Koko as a weasel a couple of times. There are also a couple other instances in which Koko and Yum-Yum are mistaken for animals other than cats, due to the somewhat unusual appearance of Siamese in comparison with the types of cats people are used to, particularly at a distance.
Ill Girl: Qwill's ex-wife is indicated to be one of these; in an early book, Arch snipes at him about having sent her money and he protests, pointing out that she's in poor health. A later book reveals that she dies in a sanitarium.
In Medias Res: The Cat Who Played Post Office, in which Qwilleran moves to Moose County, opens with a scene in which Qwilleran awakes in a hospital following a bad bicycle wreck with a case of Easy Amnesia that is quickly resolved. Most of the remainder of the book depicts the events that eventually led up to this.
Kick the Dog: Arch Riker, Qwill's lifelong best friend, is mentioned to be fond of antique tin, and at one time had a sizable collection. His first wife managed to get hold of it in their divorce settlement, and promptly opened her own shop - "Tin 'n Stuff" - to sell it.
Last Disrespects: The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts frequently refers to the funeral of Ephraim Goodwinter, who had a record number of mourners accompanying the funeral procession; but the vast majority were there to celebrate his death, since Ephraim was one of the most hated men in town after indirectly causing the deaths of 42 miners. (See Meaningful Funeral, below.)
Long Runners: The series has nearly 30 books, plus a handful of side volumes.
Man in a Kilt: Probably inevitable, given the Scottish history that was built for Qwilleran's character. Despite this, he resists for a long time, but eventually buys one in a moment of weakness after getting a scare regarding Polly Duncan's health.
Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Applying to both Qwill and Koko. Qwill's pepper-and-salt mustache bristles occasionally, and he sees it as a sign of raw intuition picking up on something suspicious. Koko at times appears to be psychic, but it's always left ambiguous as to whether or not his catty antics are just what they seem to be or not. At least, Qwilleran seems to find it ambiguous, but to the reader it's a bit more obvious that there's something magic about it. If a cat lets out a chilling howl once at the exact time of a suspicious death that later turns out to be murder, that may be a coincidence. If said cat repeatedly does this, then it can no longer be written off as just coincidence, especially combined with some of the other things Koko does. Though on the "mundane" side of the argument is the fact that Qwill rarely manages to predict anything from Koko's clues and the explanation of how Koko solves the mystery usually comes as Qwill tries to fit in Koko's behaviour with the solution he already knows.
A lesser example is Mildred Hanstable Riker's Tarot readings. They are vague enough that there's no proof Mildred can predict the future but almost always prove accurate.
Meaningful Funeral: It's frequently mentioned that the funeral of Ephraim Goodwinter, the patriarch of the well-to-do Goodwinter family, was extremely large and of great significance to the people of Moose County. Of course, since most of the people in Moose County kind of hated him, it was meaningful for the wrong sort of reason.
Murder the Hypotenuse: Melinda Goodwinter tries this after she becomes convinced that Polly Duncan is the only thing standing between her and marrying into the Klingenschoen fortune. This is despite the fact that (a) she knows that Qwill has given away pretty much all his money to the K Foundation, and (b) she knows Qwill is not inclined to marry anyone. Rationality wasn't exactly her strong point by the time she tried this.
Must Have Caffeine: Qwilleran is notorious for his potent coffee brew, though in the final book (which was widely panned by fans), he is portrayed as drinking tea.
Mystery Magnet: Lampshaded. One of the characters comments that he cannot remember any dead bodies before Qwilleran came to town.
Nephewism: Played with. Qwill refers to Fanny Klingenschoen as his "Aunt Fanny," but they weren't related at all; she was his mother's best friend and considered him her godson.
Non-Idle Rich: When Qwilleran first inherits his billions, he is horrified because he has never needed a great amount of possessions to be happy and loathes the idea of living in a huge mansion with servants. He quickly establishes the Klingenschoen Foundation to dispose of the vast majority of the unwanted fortune; the K-Fund provides grants for small businesses and locals in need. Qwill also later helps to found a more full-featured newspaper in his new hometown of Pickaxe, whose newspaper was previously stuck in the 19th century.
Noodle Incident: Something took place prior to the start of the series which caused Qwill to lose everything he ever owned, including any photographs he ever had of his mother. Exactly what it was never gets completely revealed, although his disastrous marriage and bout of alcoholism are at least tangentially connected.
On One Condition: Qwill can only inherit the Klingenschoen money if he remains a resident of Moose County for five years. Leaving sooner than that would mean that the money would be turned over to a syndicate in New Jersey.
Pun-Based Title: The Moose County Something. When Qwill purchased the local paper after its previous owner's death, he and the staff gave it this placeholder title and held a county-wide vote for a new name. The majority of the residents actually liked calling it the Something, and it stuck.
Punny Name: The weatherman in Moose County, Weatherby Goode. Subverted in that it's a self-given stage name; his real name is Joe Bunker.
Pyramid Power: In The Cat Who Blew the Whistle, Elizabeth Hart is big on the idea of pyramid power. Unannounced, she and her boyfriend pop over to the Qwilleran's apple barn and set up a makeshift portable pyramid. After they leave, Koko makes his way to the very center of the pyramid and there is a blackout across all of Pickax that doesn't stop until he exits the pyramid.
Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Literally, in one book, when the vacationing Qwill's car is stolen and the driver turns up dead. The local law enforcement where the car is found, who don't know Qwill, assume the dead man is the owner of the car and issue an incorrect report. While most of Moose County is thrown into deep mourning, Arch goes to where Qwill is staying to get the cats and almost has a heart attack when he finds Qwill sitting there.
Running Gag: In the early books, all of Qwill's editors misspell his name with a "q-u" instead of his actual "q-w." This occasionally resurfaces in later installments.
Samus Is a Girl: In The Cat Who Sniffed Glue, Polly is jealous when she sees Qwill out with a young woman on the night he told her he was having dinner with "the architect from Cincinnati." Qwill informs her that the young woman was the architect from Cincinnati, and jokingly scolds her for "assuming the profession was limited to men." To be fair to Polly, though, (a) Qwill knew that she was assuming that the architect was a man, and he didn't correct her, and (b) the architect was one of his ex-girlfriends.
Scotland: Many of the characters are of Scottish descent, and in one book, they take a group trip to Scotland.
Secret Identity: A mundane example. Qwill adopts the moniker of "Ronald Frobnitz" when he wants to hide his involvement in some philanthropic effort, such as making a bid in a silent auction on a horrible piece of art that no one else wants.
Self-Made Orphan: Qwill encounters two of these in the course of the series. One he meets when taking a vacation to nearby Potato Mountain. The other, who killed not only her father but men who reminded her of her father, is revealed to be a victim of Parental Incest, and has a Split Personality to boot.
Harvey Fitch may qualify as well. He didn't mean to kill his parents, but they both died as a direct result of his actions.
Shaggy Search Technique: Koko is often responsible for unintentionally revealing the culprit or final clues... or is he? One of the ongoing themes for the series is the question of whether or not the Siamese is psychic.
Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Both Qwilleran and Polly are big Shakespeare buffs, and the series includes everything from minor Shakespeare references to entire Shakespeare plays being performed by the Pickaxe Theatre Club.
Stalker with a Crush: Qwill's one-time love interest, Melinda Goodwinter, who goes so far as to try to have his serious girlfriend murdered in an attempt to get him back.
Stock Yuck: Qwill loathes turnips and doesn't hesitate to say so; he's convinced that 'something underhanded' must be done to make a dish containing turnips palatable. In another case, he writes in his "Qwill Pen" column about all of the different ways in which turnips are awful and in return receives a giant turnip grown by one of his readers. First, though, the package has to be inspected by the bomb squad because there has recently been a bombing in the community and the package is considered suspicious.
Talk About the Weather: Considered simple politeness in Moose County before getting down to more serious subjects.
Tall Tale: Qwilleran collects various tall tales from around Moose County, and eventually publishes them.
Twin Switch: A dark example in one book, when one brother murders his identical twin and then takes his place.
Uncle Pennybags: Qwill takes on many of the characteristics after becoming heir to the Klingenschoen money. He even establishes a charity foundation to distribute the money so that it improves the county.
Where The Hell Is Springfield?: It's never clarified where Moose County is actually supposed to be, other than that it's somewhat near the Great Lakes. The books never even mention which state it's in. The only description for its location is that it's "four hundred miles north of everywhere."
While the first four books are suggested to take place in some major city, we never learn which one. Rather unusually for newspapers, neither the paper Qwill works for (The Daily Fluxion) nor its rival (The Morning Rampage) include the name of the city.
A now-defunct fan forum once speculated that the city in the first few books is likely Detroit, but a brief mention of Michigan as a different location in The Cat Who Could Read Backwards would seem to refute this theory (while in the same book, Chicago, New York, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh are similarly ruled out). Additionally, one character is mentioned to be travelling through Pittsburgh while driving to New York, indicating that the unnamed city must be further west.