Book Review: The Cat Who Wasn’t There

The Cat Who Wasn’t There
Book #14
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When a group trip to Scotland ends in tragedy, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran begins to suspect that the death may not have been natural. Can he piece together the clues, including those from his perceptive Siamese, to solve the mystery?

Koko’s back to licking photographs, but while he does his best to communicate the clues to his food-provider (or is just coincidence?), Qwilleran is busy dodging an old girlfriend who wants to be a new wife. Qwilleran has definitely changed over the course of this series, in ways that even he is still discovering. It keeps the series from getting stale, as do the location changes now and then. While I have grumbled in the past about books that take us away from Pickax, this book still spends plenty of time there, while the death happens far away.

I’m not a Shakespeare aficionado in any way and have never read Macbeth, but it makes a great backdrop to the story. The author does a pretty good job of giving a reader without knowledge of the play, which the local theater club is staging, enough information to appreciate the connections made. I don’t know if a reader more knowledgeable about Macbeth would enjoy it more or less than I did. Though I had suspicions about who was involved in the crime, I didn’t put together the hows and whys before I was told. But to be fair, Braun wrote these books before “cozy mystery” became a formula. In the end, I enjoyed the book a little more than I did the previous.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Moved a Mountain

The Cat Who Moved a Mountain
Book #13
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When his 5-year requirement to live in the small, northern town of Pickax ends, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran has a big decision in front of him. To help him make it, he decides to get away to a mountain retreat. But his plans for a quiet getaway are quickly spoiled when he gets caught up in local prejudices and politics and a murder investigation that might have convicted the wrong man.

I guess it makes sense to move the action away from the same small town/northern county now and then, so it doesn’t become a place full of murders, but sadly, the change of locale often means I won’t like the book as much. Still, this one wasn’t too bad. I liked the way Qwilleran sees both sides of an ongoing battle, meeting and talking talking to people with both points of view. The mystery was decent, though not quite as interesting as others in this series have been. Koko’s antics that inspired the title aren’t exactly new, though I did appreciate the play on words.

I recently read a mystery novel with a main character who had been a gangster in the past but was forced to change due to circumstances beyond his control. In that book, the MC’s new life involved things he never would have done or cared about in the past, but it felt really forced to me. That made me notice all the more the way Qwilleran’s changes in lifestyle and personality throughout the series have been a lot smoother and more subtle. He’s certainly still himself, but also quite different from the man that used to live in the big city and write about urban crime. Overall, this was a good addition to the series.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal

The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal
Book #12
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When an unpleasant man is murdered in former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran’s own backyard, he is determined to let the police handle it. But between Koko’s antics and his own inquisitive nature, it isn’t long before he’s unable to stop the theories from forming.

Ahh, the apple barn at last! The thing I remember most from when I read some of this series around 20ish years ago is the converted apple barn with ramps and balconies that Qwilleran, Koko, and Yum Yum live in. I didn’t quite realize how long it took them to get there, but it isn’t surprising that it was this far in, given the progression of Qwilleran’s life up to this point. It’s only a shame that their housewarming is punctuated by murder, not to mention the further tragedy that is more of a spoiler to mention here. The mystery in this book is another good one, though I was struck by similarities in the main players of the drama to those in a previous book, The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts. I loved Koko’s “friendship” with the cardinal and found myself reacting with high sentiments at the developments related to it.

One thing I didn’t care for in this book is the hit that the relationship between Qwilleran and Polly takes. The way they seem to regard each other makes me feel sad and wonder how long they can possibly last. They both seem ready to toss each other over at the first chance. Maybe this is supposed to be due to the fact that neither of them wants a marriage, but they still get quickly jealous over the other paying a little extra attention to someone of the opposite gender. I used to think of their relationship as sweet and comfortable, but I’m definitely starting to see it differently now. We’ll see how that progresses, though, since I’m only a little more than 1/3 of the way through the series, which I do recommend for fans of cozy mysteries.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Lived High

The Cat Who Lived High
Book #11
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When a past acquaintance of former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran asks him to help save a historic building from being demolished, he moves into a penthouse apartment in the building. He quickly discovers that the former occupant was murdered, and that the story being told about the death may not be accurate.

This book was good, but not one of the better installments of the series. Part of that, I think, is because after we’ve had the chance to get used to Pickax City, Moose County, and all of the odd characters in Qwilleran’s new home 400 miles north of everywhere, we’re yanked back to the big city (as is Qwilleran). There are some familiar faces there, but the series really got better when Qwilleran moved north, so why go back? I think the other reason it didn’t stand out is that the cats aren’t all that involved. Yum Yum pretty much sleeps the whole time, and Koko’s input mostly involves finding locations where certain things happened. Yes, it plays into his uncanny abilities, but part of the charm of this series is the odd habits he tends to pick up for the length of one mystery and then discard. That didn’t really happen this time.

The mystery was not particularly interesting, either, and while there were some aspects to it that I didn’t figure out myself, it was overall nothing spectacular. Still, it’s not a bad story, and I would still recommend it to fans of cozy mysteries.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts

The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts
Book #10
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran’s friend and former landlady calls him in a panic, he rushes to her house but is too late to prevent her death. She’d told him stories of hearing ghosts in the walls and appeared to have been frightened to death. Qwilleran is compelled to believe there’s a human element involved and moves into Mrs. Cobb’s empty dwelling to see if he can uncover the truth.

This is one of the few books from this series that I remember pretty well from 20+ years ago when I read some of this series. Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed it a lot on this reading, which is probably the reason I remember it so well. The death of a recurring character kicks the story off with a bang, and the old Goodwinter farmhouse, where Mrs. Cobb was living, is the perfect setting for a ghost-themed mystery. The side characters and side plots are interesting, and everything came together well at the end.

Though Qwilleran is a fairly set in his ways and has little patience for certain personalities, I liked how his compassionate side comes out in this book. And not just the easier kind of compassion toward someone that he likes or is intrigued by, but also compassion toward someone he dislikes or at least doesn’t regard in a great light originally. This is a great addition to a series that I really enjoy and highly recommend to fans of cozy mysteries.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Went Underground

The Cat Who Went Underground
Book #9
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran decides to spend the summer at the cabin on the lake he inherited, he quickly discovers that “roughing it” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The cabin’s near-continual repair needs nearly distract Qwilleran from the mystery he’s stumbled into the middle of.

This wasn’t my favorite book in the series, but it still has the charm that I’m used to from the series. Though Koko did, indeed, go underground, and that did play a big part in the story’s mystery, that cats weren’t terribly involved overall. That wasn’t really what led to the lower score, though, as the mystery itself wasn’t quite as interesting as it has been in other books. It didn’t help that Qwill speculated something that might have seemed wild at the time early in the book, and that turned out to be the truth. It might have been better for it to have been more of a surprise later.

Still, I actually enjoyed the fact that, though Qwill normally prefers a simple life and doesn’t have much use for money for himself, he definitely relied on it, and quickly, every time something went wrong with the cabin. I also liked the starting up of the human interest column I knew he would be writing for much of the series and the various ways Qwill is still getting used to this northern, wilder environment. Though this one didn’t stand out to me as much as others have, I enjoy the overall story and characters and look forward to continuing the series.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Sniffed Glue

The Cat Who Sniffed Glue
Book #8
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When the son and daughter-in-law of a prominent family in the far-north town of Pickax is murdered by what looks like a robbery gone wrong, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran can’t help but ask the probing questions the police aren’t. And is it possible that someone is using the recent rash of vandalism in the area to cover something more sinister?

Koko is at it again, though he seems to be licking glue at least as much as he’s smelling it. I always try to figure out how his antics connect to the crime, and I don’t know if my lack of being able to do so is because I’ve never been very good at making connections when reading or watching mystery stories or because Braun doesn’t give the readers enough clues.

I’ve been enjoying this series overall, though this one didn’t stand out to me as much as others have. Qwill made some wise decisions in this book regarding the women in his life, though I knew what the outcome would ultimately be, since I’ve read some of the later books in the series long ago. This is my first time going through from start to finish, though, and I’m glad I made the decision to do so.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare

The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare
Book #7
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

After inheriting millions of dollars, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran has started to make the far-north town of Pickax home. When a prominent local man dies, Qwilleran can’t help but question whether or not it was really an accident. And is there a connection to the sudden rash of fires in the small town?

There is so much tragedy and loss in this book, it’s a little heavier than other recent entries in the series. It was good to see some of the characters from previous books, like Hixie Rice from The Cat Who Saw Red, though not necessarily good to see her luck hasn’t really changed. To be fair, it isn’t as bad as poor Mrs. Cobb’s luck with men. One thing is for sure—Braun does not let things stagnate in this series; one can never get too comfortable with anything, as it could change at any time.

I liked this book but not as much as the several preceding it. Part of my issue was that I was thrown off by the mention of Qwill having already lived in Pickax for over a year? Apparently a lot of time had passed between this book and the previous, or I’m remembering the previous one wrong, but I was really confused for a while and felt like I’d missed something. There is also a lot of off-mystery story in this one that I didn’t feel were particularly interesting or worth including. Maybe it was meant to add some red herrings to the main mystery, but it felt detached to me. Still, I’m really into the series now and looking forward to reading more.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Played Post Office

The Cat Who Played Post Office
Book #6
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

Now that he’s inherited more money than he could possibly spend, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran sets to work figuring out how not to let it ruin his life. As he settles into the mansion full of antiques and hires some staff to make his life easier, he begins to uncover some secrets about a former employee of the manor. Is the maid missing, or did something more sinister happen to her? Could it be a coincidence that other people connected to her are starting to die?

Another great installment of the series, this book is a good example of how this series doesn’t necessarily follow the mystery format of: crime happens, investigation happens. You can get through a good amount of the book before really understanding that Qwill has been investigating a possible crime the whole time. While he’s settling in to his new home, meeting his lawyers and the local interior designer, and learning how the local diner crowd provides a lot of (mostly useless) gossip, he’s bringing to light a mystery that had been swept under the rug. Of course, this ruffles some feathers and causes some problems by the time it’s clear whether or not he’s really uncovered something important.

I loved the way the cats would play with the mail pouring through the slot, hiding some and bringing some directly to Qwill. Other antics of Koko’s were fun to see come into play too. I’m still really enjoying this series and would recommend this book for fans of the classic whodunit & cozy mystery genres.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Played Brahms

The Cat Who Played Brahms
Book #5
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When an old friend of his mother’s, a nearly 90-year-old woman he’s always called Aunt Fanny, offers him use of her cabin on a lake for the summer, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran decides that a few months away from the bustle of city life and his newspaper job that keeps changing assignments on him might be just what he needs. Moose County, though, is practically a whole different country, and Qwilleran experiences culture shock, even as his old familiar instincts kick in when he’s certain he’s found evidence of a murder occurring.

I keep saying this, but I think this might be my new favorite in the series. Qwill out of his element was pretty great, and the introduction to the area I know he’ll be living for the rest of the series was comical in many ways. The inclusion of Koko’s latest quirk as hinted at in the title might have been my favorite so far, and I really liked the little bit of emotion near the end of the book. I loved seeing real friendships begin to develop with people he’ll be living amongst soon, and especially enjoyed the few interactions he had with the managing editor of the local paper. Overall, the clash of a true city man trying to understand the far north country made this book different than the previous in a lot of ways, but I really liked it.

To be honest, until I started reading through this series recently, I wondered if I only liked them when I was younger because…well, I was younger. I thought I’d find them silly, pedantic, boring, etc. now. Apparently my reading tastes haven’t changed all that much, because I’ve been enjoying them a lot. I would recommend this book for fans of the classic whodunit & cozy mystery genres.

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