Lilian Jackson Braun (1913-2011) – The Cat Who Died Twice

Mystery author Lilian Jackson Braun, author of 29 cozy mystery novels in the Cat Who… series has died just a couple of weeks short of her 98th birthday. This is not the first time Lilian has been reported dead. Rumors of her death surfaced as early as 2009, and were not easy to dispel because of her extreme privacy after she retired from writing the Cat Who… series. But this time her death is reported in the L.A. Times (the New York Times ™® apparently didn’t bother), so I’m afraid it’s for real.

The series, which was centered on former hard-bitten crime reporter and later multimillionaire heir James Qwilleran and his two Siamese cats Ko-Ko and Yum-Yum, was acknowledged by many subsequent writers of mysteries involving cats as the beginning of the genre, and Ms. Jackson Braun as its founder. In some ways, the first few novels in the series, in which Qwilleran is a big-city crime reporter who has not yet inherited a fortune, are the best crafted, perhaps because Lilian had her own experience reporting for the Detroit Free Press to draw on. And the last few books of the series, ending with The Cat Who Had Sixty Whiskers (2007; the rumored one more novel never actually materialized) were disappointing, formulaic, perhaps the output of a mind declining with age. But in between are many charming “cozy” mysteries in which the murder is not so much the center of the story as an excuse for telling it, and many of us wish that small town life were more like the mythical Pickax, “four hundred miles north of everywhere.”

Yes, it’s true; I own all the Cat Who… novels. I’m a sucker for a cozy read.

Rest in peace, Lilian. We miss you already.

(H/T Bryan of Why Now? for informing me of her death.)

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Comments

  • ellroon  On Wednesday June 8, 2011 at 10:40 am

    I’m not sure I’ve read more than one or two of Braun’s mysteries. Think I have a few in the ‘to read pile’ from my gleanings from garage sales. But on your recommendation I will make a concerted effort to find and read them from the beginning (maybe avoiding the last few?).

    Kinda like Agatha Christie’s efforts towards the end. Someone did a study where they took Christie’s early books and compared them to the last few, finding that she used less vocabulary and repeated them more, suggesting she was suffering from Alzheimer’s. (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127211884)

    • Steve  On Wednesday June 8, 2011 at 1:29 pm

      ellroon, I don’t know for sure that Ms. Jackson Braun was declining mentally; I only surmise it from the formulaic nature of her last few books. People do write “creatively” in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease; one of the first indications we had of my mother’s Alzheimer’s was the time she wrote out a check for $3,000,000 for some very ordinary bill that may have been $30 at most. As to your reading them, choose an evening in which a warm fuzzy kitten appeals to you, even if it has sharp claws. Plan to spend 2 to 4 hours… total… reading one of the books. Don’t blame me if you get hooked, or if you don’t.

  • Bryan  On Wednesday June 8, 2011 at 11:28 am

    She did a lot of research in her early novels covering a diverse series of topics [cuisine, ceramics, antiques] but that fell off as the series went on after the move to the Upper Peninsula. Still, it was like hanging out with old friends.

    • Steve  On Wednesday June 8, 2011 at 1:31 pm

      Bryan, I suspect Jackson Braun was still working as a reporter when she wrote those early novels. Face it, reporters come across whole subject areas that pass the rest of us by. But she had the mentality and creativity to absorb such things and make novels of them. Lilian really was a very capable writer of entertaining fiction in her day.

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