The Cat Who...
The Cat Who... is a novel series of murder mystery novels by Lilian Jackson Braun. This series is called the "Cat Who..." series because each book title in this series begins with the words "The Cat Who. . .".
"Cat Who..." books feature a reporter named Jim Qwilleran and his Siamese cats, Kao K'o-Kung (Koko for short) and Yum-Yum. The first book in the series was written in 1966, with two more following in 1967 and 1968. Eighteen years passed until Jackson Braun published the next book in the series, and through 2007 a new "Cat Who..." title was published with some regularity. Lawrence Block once wrote in one of his Burglar books the rather facetious comment that the next book in the series ought to be entitled 'The Cat Who Lived Forever'.
James Mackintosh Qwilleran
Qwilleran, or Qwill as his friends call him, is the main human character in the books. He was born Merlin James Qwilleran, a fact explained by his mother (in a letter to Francesca Klingenschoen) as a product of reading King Arthur during her pregnancy. His father, Dana, was a talented theater actor who toured the country. When he met Qwill’s mother, Anne Mackintosh, they chose to stay in Chicago, so he could not stay in his theater group. Qwill’s grandparents strongly disapproved of this relationship, and broke off all contact with his mother; Dana, deprived of work opportunities because of the economic depression, fell into evil ways and was eventually shot dead while attempting burglary. Because of this, Qwill never knew any family other than his mother. But he does remember his mother’s friend Francesca Klingenschoen, known to Qwilleran as Aunt Fanny.
He grew up with Arch Riker, who would be his lifelong friend, and with a love of literature. He was very smart at school, won many spelling bees and was always very fond of language and baseball. One of his English teachers was particularly influential, cultivating his ability to compose an interesting essay on any topic. When he was seventeen, his girlfriend, Joy Wheatley (she later returns in The Cat Who Saw Red) left to "find herself" and Qwill joined the service. It is never explicitly stated which war he fought in, but it is likely that he served during Operation Torch during World War II, since several times throughout the series he uses a curse he learned while in North Africa. He came out of it with an injured knee and so could not have the career in baseball he always desired. So he went to college, participated in some acting, but found it was journalism for which he had a natural knack.
In this light he decided to become a journalist, and encountered great success in this field. He primarily reported on crime for major newspapers, and even wrote a book, "City of Brotherly Crime" (a best-seller), and won many awards. He then married Miriam, an advertising executive who resembled Joy. But the marriage was bad and ended in a shattering divorce that left Miriam in an insane asylum and Qwill feeling depressed and guilty. This led him to become an alcoholic and lose his job. One night while drunk, he fell into the path of a subway train and was rescued just in time. This brought him back to reality and he got help.
After resolving never to touch alcohol again, he was virtually broke. Qwill went to "the city" (no name is given, but it is most likely in the Great Lakes area, probably Detroit based on Lilian's residence and its 2 newspapers that are delivered throughout the state) to get a job at "The Daily Fluxion." The books continue the story from this point.
One summer, he and his cats go for a quiet retreat, vacationing in the north woods, and visit Aunt Fanny on the way. Soon after, Aunt Fanny dies, and Qwill is surprised to learn that her will leaves the vast Klingenschoen fortune to him—provided he lives in Moose County for the next 5 years.
So Qwilleran moves to Moose County ("400 miles north of everywhere") in the northern part of the state, and the next few books record this adjustment—for him, and his cats. Despite the initial culture shock of small-town life, Qwilleran makes friends and, after determining that being a billionaire is a nuisance, establishes the Klingenschoen Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to improving life in Moose County and surrounds.
After a while, his life settles into a yearly pattern. He spends springs and autumns at the four-story apple barn he'd had converted into a residence; he spends summers at a cabin on the shore of one of the Great Lakes; and he spends his winters in a condo development, as the barn is impractical to live in during the winter, being four stories of open interior space and therefore impossible to heat evenly.
Qwilleran (Qwill to his friends) is a man who goes from late forties to mid fifties over the course of the series. He's six feet, two inches tall, with dark brooding eyes and salt-and-pepper hair (he can still claim that it's mostly pepper). He is slightly overweight in the early books, but loses some weight over the course of the series. He is often described as looking melancholy or brooding, but he is witty and enjoyable company. His most distinguishing feature is his "luxurious moustache," which is considered attractive by many women, and Polly Duncan describes it as being similar to the composer Edward MacDowell’s. (Elsewhere it is compared to those of Mark Twain - who is alleged to have visited Moose County in 1895 - and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.) However, his moustache is more than mere facial hair. Whenever Qwilleran gets a suspicion that something is wrong or his instincts are right, he will get "a tingling sensation on his upper lip." Depending upon the strength of the sensation, he may be seen "stroking it with his fingertips" to "pounding [his mustache] with his knuckles".
Qwilleran has a willingness to listen, which is described as part curiosity and part professional interest. He also has a strong desire to investigate things that are not his business and could endanger him, and these investigations make up the plot of the various books. He gets on well with most people, but generally prefers to avoid children. Although he is a former alcoholic, he appears to have his condition well in hand, to the point that he can keep alcohol at home to serve to the people he entertains. Due to the disastrous nature of his former marriage, he has no inclination to remarry, despite his strong feelings for Polly Duncan. Despite his immense inherited fortune, he is far from extravagant, and uses the vast majority of his money for philanthropy or civic projects.
"Kao K’o-Kung" is the full name of the Siamese cat who is almost always referred to as "Koko". He is named after a 13th-century Chinese artist of the same name, also known as Gao Kegong, and was formerly owned by Fluxion art critic George Bonifield Mountclemens III, who was highly fond of cats. Mountclemens claimed that the cat "...himself has the dignity and grace of Chinese art." He fed Koko a gourmet diet of lobster, chicken and many other high-class meals. Koko will not accept normal cat food, leaving Qwilleran to provide for his expensive diet.
He has the appearance of a prize winning show-cat and an obstinate attitude toward anything he does not like. He often goes out of his way to annoy or embarrass female humans he does not approve of. He also has a habit of watching birds and knocking books off shelves, and these books are normally read to the cats by Qwilleran. Though it would seem he would be able to do fine on his own, when Qwill had to go to work, Koko became lonely and this led to Qwill to get Yum-Yum. Of course, because Koko eats food like salmon and crab, Yum-Yum had the privilege of eating this food as well. Qwilleran always feeds them such meals throughout the series.
Koko’s most notable characteristic is his sixth sense. On the surface, his actions are not that extraordinary; they are things that any energetic and healthy cat might do from time to time. He might dig up small pieces of evidence, for instance, or point something out to Qwilleran by acting extremely attracted to it. He has also been known to use seemingly random yowls or body language to communicate things, especially when a death is caused by foul play: he has both a "death howl" and a unique "death dance". Sometimes Qwilleran does not immediately recognize the significance of Koko’s actions, and sometimes will not recognize them at all (if they occur before Qwill has the slightest idea of any misdemeanor), at least not until the case has been solved. He also seems to have the power to trigger certain important events, such as causing a blackout by sitting in the middle of a pyramid. During the several occasions in which Qwill’s life has been threatened, Koko has come to his aid and been instrumental in the defeat of Qwill’s assailant. Koko’s action made him famous among members of The Press Club in the city, where he received an official membership signed by the Chief of Police.
Qwilleran believes Koko has his unusually strong sixth sense because he has 30 whiskers on each side of his face (60 in total), while most cats have 24 (48 in total). Whiskers are significant in the stories because, as mentioned earlier, Qwill often has a tingling sensation in his moustache when he is on the right train of thought when a case is involved, and a moustache can be called "whiskers."
"Yum-Yum" does not appear to have any extraordinary abilities, so she does not play as active a role in solving the mysteries, but is still a major character in the series. She is also Siamese, and had a troubled past. Her history is fully explained in The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern, but it can be summed up rather briefly. Qwilleran got Yum-Yum as a kitten from the Taits, rich folk who did not treat Yum-Yum properly and did not even truly decide on her name. Mr. Tait, a jade collector, named her Yu after a variety of jade, while Mrs. Tait, whose family originates from Aarhus, Denmark calls her Freya, after the Norse goddess of love.
Qwilleran adopted her partially because he could not stand her circumstances (explained in The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern) and partially because, after consulting an expert, Qwilleran realized Koko needed someone to keep him company. Yum-Yum is named after a character in the opera The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan who is also the ward of a man named Ko-Ko.
Yum-Yum is described as being smaller than Koko, and far more affectionate. Her beautiful violet-blue eyes are slightly crossed. She has a lot of dexterity, being able to open drawers, operate switches, and so forth, and likes to pilfer small objects. These traits have earned her the nickname "Yum-Yum The Paw."
Qwilleran’s relationship with his cats
Qwilleran has a very strong attachment to Koko and Yum-Yum. Qwilleran is not affected by matters that could threaten his own life, but becomes extremely anxious when matters involve the cats. During the several occasions where they had gone missing, he has risked his own life to save them, and he does not know what he would do without them. He often thinks that his old acquaintances would never believe he could love his cats as he does, and can hardly believe it himself sometimes. There is, however, no question that Qwilleran has an extremely strong bond with his cats.
The "Cat Who" series comprises 29 novels and three related volumes to date. A thirtieth novel, originally announced for 2008 publication, was postponed indefinitely by its publisher, and then canceled after the author's death.
The novels in the series are, in order:
- The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, 1966 (ISBN 0-515-09017-4): Qwill and Koko's first meeting.
- The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern, 1967 (ISBN 0-515-08712-2): Qwill is given the interior design beat for his newspaper. He also meets Yum Yum.
- The Cat Who Turned On and Off, 1968 (ISBN 0-515-08794-7): Qwill goes to Junktown to write a Christmas feature series.
- The Cat Who Saw Red, 1986 (ISBN 0-515-09016-6): Qwill gets assigned to the culinary beat and reunites with an old flame.
- The Cat Who Played Brahms, 1987 (ISBN 0-515-09050-6): A contemplative Qwill withdraws from the big city to visit his Aunt Fanny in Moose County.
- The Cat Who Played Post Office, 1988 (ISBN 0-515-09320-3): A bicycling mishap and a brightly painted room have Qwill's mustache twitching.
- The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare, 1988 (ISBN 0-515-09582-6): Fire and death at the newspaper offices.
- The Cat Who Sniffed Glue, 1988 (ISBN 0-515-09954-6): Vandalism appears in Pickax and a couple is murdered.
- The Cat Who Went Underground, 1989 (ISBN 0-515-10123-0): Qwill goes on vacation and carpenters in the area start dying.
- The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts, 1990 (ISBN 0-515-10265-2): One of Qwill's friends is found scared to death in her own home.
- The Cat Who Lived High, 1990 (ISBN 0-515-10566-X): Qwill returns to Junktown to try to restore an old apartment building.
- The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal, 1991 (ISBN 0-515-10786-7): Pickax's principal is found fatally shot after a party at Qwill's barn.
- The Cat Who Moved a Mountain, 1991 (ISBN 0-515-10950-9): Qwill and the cats go on retreat in the Potatoes.
- The Cat Who Wasn't There, 1992 (ISBN 0-515-11127-9): Sixteen Moose County residents go on group tour to Scotland.
- The Cat Who Went Into the Closet, 1993 (ISBN 0-515-11332-8): Qwill attempts to solve a murder mystery long distance.
- The Cat Who Came to Breakfast, 1994 (ISBN 0-515-11564-9): Qwill and his felines take a trip to Breakfast Island resort.
- The Cat Who Blew the Whistle, 1995 (ISBN 0-515-11824-9): A railroad buff and president of a local bank disappears.
- The Cat Who Said Cheese, 1996 (ISBN 0-515-12027-8): A stranger checks into the New Pickax Hotel. Not too long after, the hotel is bombed.
- The Cat Who Tailed a Thief, 1997 (ISBN 0-515-12240-8): Small actions of theft are occurring in Pickax and a few people are found dead.
- The Cat Who Sang for the Birds, 1998 (ISBN 0-515-12463-X): An old barn across from the new art center burns down.
- The Cat Who Saw Stars, 1999 (ISBN 0-515-12739-6): Qwill takes a vacation in Mooseville.
- The Cat Who Robbed a Bank, 2000 (ISBN 0-515-12994-1): A jewelry dealer from Chicago comes to visit and is murdered.
- The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, 2001 (ISBN 0-399-14665-2): A very dry year and concerns about wildfires have everyone praying for snow.
- The Cat Who Went Up the Creek, 2002 (ISBN 0-515-13438-4): Qwill and the cats stay at a riverside inn in Black Creek.
- The Cat Who Brought Down the House, 2003 (ISBN 0-515-13655-7): An aging film star retires to Pickax.
- The Cat Who Talked Turkey, 2004 (ISBN 0-399-15107-9): The long-absent turkey population begins to return to Pickax.
- The Cat Who Went Bananas, 2005 (ISBN 0-399-15224-5): A new bookstore opens.
- The Cat Who Dropped a Bombshell, 2006 (ISBN 0-399-15307-1): Moose County prepares for its 150th anniversary.
- The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers, 2007 (ISBN 978-0399153907): Polly unexpectedly takes a library job in Paris, leaving without even saying goodbye to Qwill, and a gardener's so-called accidental death does not seem so accidental.
- The Cat Who Smelled Smoke (ISBN 978-0399154744): The book was supposed to be released in 2008 but was first postponed until 2009 and later canceled by publisher Putnam Books. It remains unfinished.
Other books in collection
- The Cat Who Had 14 Tales, 1988 (ISBN 0-515-09497-8): an anthology of unrelated short stories involving various cats. Note that Qwilleran, Koko and Yum Yum DO NOT appear in these tales.
- Short and Tall Tales: Moose County Legends Collected by James Mackintosh Qwilleran, 2002 (ISBN 0-515-13635-2): collected anecdotes and regional folklore from residents of Pickax & environs
- The Private Life of the Cat Who ...: Tales of Koko and Yum Yum (from the Journals of James Mackintosh Qwilleran), 2004 (ISBN 0-515-13832-0): collection of extracts from several previous works with limited new material
In addition, the novels above are sometimes published as 3-in-1 volumes or omnibus box sets under various names playing on the general title themes (such as Two Cats, Three Tales or The Cat Who Put Four in a Box).
- The Cat Who...Companion, 1998 (ISBN 0-425-18642-3) by Sharon A. Feaster, including Braun interview
- The Cat Who... Quiz Book, 2003 (ISBN 0-425-19187-7) by Robert J. Headrick, Jr., with introduction by Braun
- The Cat Who... Cookbook, 2000 (ISBN 0-425-17674-6) by Julie Murphy and Sally Abney Stempinski, with foreword by Braun
- The Cat Who... Reunion Cookbook, 2006 (ISBN 0-425-21188-6) by Julie Murphy and Sally Abney Stempinski, with foreword by Braun
- The Cat Who Killed Lilian Jackson Braun, 2003 (ISBN 1-893-22484-8), a parody novel by Robert Kaplow
- List of fictional cats in literature
- The Cat Who Came for Christmas, a 1987 novel by Cleveland Amory which bears no relation to the Cat Who ... series, despite the similarity in the title.
- The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, a 1985 novel by Robert A. Heinlein should also not be confused with the Cat Who... series.
- Braun, Lilian Jackson, The Cat Who Could Read Backwards (1966).
- Pg 191, "The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern"
- Schulman, Mark (June 6, 2011). "Reprint of Times-News Online Obituary "Best-selling author Lilian Jackson Braun of Tryon dies at 97"". Retrieved July 13, 2012.