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 James 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 today a new "Cat Who..." title is 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'.
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, a Dane
, was a successful theater actor who toured the country. When he met Qwill’s mother, Anne Mackintosh, they had 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. 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 life-long 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 cannot have the career in baseball he always desired. So he goes to college, does a little acting, but finds that it is journalism that he has a natural knack for.
So he becomes a journalist and is very successful. He primarily reported on crime for major newspapers, and even wrote a book, "City of Brotherly Crime" (which was a best-seller), and won many awards. Then he 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 sobered him 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.
Appearance and Moustache
Qwilleran is a man of upper forties to mid fifties. 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). His weight varies from being slightly over weight in the early books to an average weight in the mid-to-late books. 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 MacDonald’s. But his moustache is more than just facial hair. It often provides clues to help Qwilleran solve the various mysteries that confront him. 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".
He also 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.
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 Chinese artist, and was formerly owned by Fluxion Art Critic George Bonifield Mountclemens III, who was highly fond of cats. He fed Koko a gourmet diet of lobster, chicken and many other high-class meals. Koko will not accept normal cat food, and Qwilleran has to feed him his expensive diet.
He has the appearance of a prize winning show-cat (though Koko would never allow himself to be put on display) 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 and he does not approve of many. 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 has to eat that food too. Qwilleran always feeds them such meals throughout the series.
Koko’s most notable characteristic is his sixth sense. His actions are not that extraordinary, they mainly involve digging up small pieces of evidence, pointing things out to Qwilleran by acting extremely attracted to them, using body language to communicate things, making a “death howl” whenever a death is caused by foul play, and doing things that make Qwilleran think of something that turns out to be a clue. 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). 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 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 play as active a role in 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
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.
Yum-Yum is slight, with a wedge shaped head, slightly crossed eyes, and a kink in her tail. She has a piercing shriek used for reminding Qwilleran that it is time for food, and a habit of stealing anything small and shining. She enjoys untying shoe laces, playing with crumpled paper (usually fished out of the waste paper basket), and hiding any small object that she has stolen to play with later. She is also extremely attracted to beards or mustaches. She enjoys sitting on laps, being stroked and cuddled (something Koko would not accept, as it would be undignified). She has ordinary intelligence, but Koko often “convinces” her to take items of interest and bring them to Qwilleran’s attention. She also has partaken in “skits” that caused Qwilleran to realize something about a case. She is emotionally dependent on Qwilleran, and he believes she would wither away without him.
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 titles 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 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): Qwill leaves the big city to move to Pickax.
- The Cat Who Played Post Office, 1988 (ISBN 0-515-09320-3): Someone seems to be trying to get rid of Qwill, and a brightly painted room has his 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 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): Iris Cobb 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 vacation.
- The Cat Who Wasn't There, 1992 (ISBN 0-515-11127-9): Sixteen people from Pickax go on vacation to Scotland.
- The Cat Who Went into the Closet, 1993 (ISBN 0-515-11332-8): Qwill attempts to solve a mystery long distance.
- The Cat Who Came to Breakfast, 1994 (ISBN 0-515-11564-9): Qwill takes a trip to Breakfast Island.
- 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.
- 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, 2008 (ISBN 978-0399154744): The book was supposed to be released in April 2008, but it has been postponed. No reason has been given by the publisher, nor has there been a revised release date.
In addition, Braun published two collections of short stories based on the same characters: The Cat Who Had 14 Tales (ISBN 0-515-09497-8), and Short and Tall Tales: Moose County Legends Collected by James Mackintosh Qwilleran (ISBN 0-515-13635-2).
Other authors have published books related to the series: The Cat Who...Companion (ISBN 0-425-18642-3), The Cat Who... Quiz Book (ISBN 0-425-19187-7), and even a Cat Who... Cookbook (ISBN 0-425-17674-6). A parody of the series known as the The Cat Who Killed Lilian Jackson Braun has also been published.
Braun's Private Life of the Cat Who... (ISBN 0-515-13832-0), a collection of pieces from several previous works, was released in September, 2004.
List of fictional cats in literature