The Cat Who Could Read Backwards
by Lilian Jackson Braun
My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery
Jim Qwilleran is working his way back into the newspaper world after some personal struggles led to a dark time for him. He’s given the art beat, which has him completely out of his element, but at least it’s work. After meeting various members of the local art community, the death of one of those people has Qwilleran’s large mustache quivering. Accompanied by his landlord’s highly intelligent and quirky Siamese cat, Qwill does a little investigating while still reporting the news.
This first book in a 29-book-long series takes a while to really get started. Qwill is new in the area and has a lot of people to meet, and so do we. The murder comes quite a ways into the book, but it’s not like everything before that is pointless and boring. It’s a little slower than I might have liked, yes, but since I know this is going to be a murder-mystery, I’m guessing who the victim will be up until the point that someone dies (I was wrong, by the way…and then I was right). There were some downsides, especially near the end, but overall, I enjoyed the book.
I loved the way Qwill and Koko (the cat) began their relationship, how Koko was introduced by his owner, and Koko’s little visits to Qwill. Having read some of this series years ago, I knew that in every book, Koko has a new quirk, usually related to the title, that is somehow involved in the solving of the murder. This one was no different, though I felt it wasn’t as involved as I remember. Maybe that’s also due to it being the first book in the series, or maybe I’m over-selling it in my remembrance. Either way, it was still fun.
One downside is that one of the common elements of cozy mysteries, the way clues to the mystery are usually sprinkled into the story enough that the discerning reader could solve it before the detective, was not there in this book. I don’t think there was any real way to figure out who did it before it was suddenly revealed at the end. Though this book was published in 1966, and I doubt “cozy mysteries” were really a thing…Braun probably didn’t know she was supposed to follow a formula. It doesn’t bother me personally, as I’ve never been all that great at solving mysteries before being given the answer anyway.
Also being written in the 60s, there’s a definite vein of male chauvinism throughout the book. At first I thought it was strange, considering the female author, but the truth is, this is probably exactly what she was seeing back then.
As a stand-alone mystery, this book is lacking a bit. As the beginning to a series, it shows a lot of promise. I personally can’t wait to see what Koko (soon to be joined by another Siamese, but I can’t remember which book) gets up to in the future. At this time, I would recommend this book for fans of the classic whodunit & cozy mystery genres.
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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!