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The Cat Who... series consists of a number of murder mysteries written by Lilian Jackson Braun, starring veteran crime journalist Jim Qwilleran (Yes, that's how it's spelled) and the two Siamese cats he adopts, Kao K'o Kung (abbreviated to Koko) and Yum Yum. The series begins with his life in an unnamed city as he is given assignments on odd beats, such as art or food criticism, and uncovers murders. Being what he is at heart, Qwill can never leave well enough alone once his mustache starts twitching....

After five or six books, though, the series moves away from the city and into the northern part of America, into an area known as Moose County. Initially, he's visiting for a vacation, but things take a turn for the worse when his "aunt" Fanny Klingenschoen is the Body of the Week. He then, after solving the crime, inherits her money, with the provision that he live in Moose County for five years.

The series began in the late 1960s, but after three books, there was an 18 year break before any more titles were published, ending when Braun's husband Earl Bettinger read the original stories and encouraged her to give it another try. Since then, future books in the series have been dedicated to "Earl Bettinger, The Husband Who..." The final book in the series, The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers, was published in 2007. Another installment, The Cat Who Smelled Smoke, was scheduled for 2008 and later 2009, but then canceled by the publisher. Born in 1913, author Lilian Jackson Braun was nearly 100 years old and her advanced age prevented her from completing the book. She passed away in 2011, leaving the series unfinished.

See also Midnight Louie, a series by Carole Nelson Douglas that draws much influence from this one, featuring a hard-boiled feline private eye as a first-person narrator at times.


Novels in this series

  • The Cat Who Could Read Backwards (1966)
  • The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern (1967)
  • The Cat Who Turned On and Off (1968)
  • The Cat Who Saw Red (1986)
  • The Cat Who Played Brahms (1987)
  • The Cat Who Played Post Office (1988)
  • The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare (1988)
  • The Cat Who Sniffed Glue (1988)
  • The Cat Who Went Underground (1989)
  • The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts (1990)
  • The Cat Who Lived High (1990)
  • The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal (1991)
  • The Cat Who Moved a Mountain (1991)
  • The Cat Who Wasn't There (1992)
  • The Cat Who Went Into the Closet (1993)
  • The Cat Who Came to Breakfast (1994)
  • The Cat Who Blew the Whistle (1995)
  • The Cat Who Said Cheese (1996)
  • The Cat Who Tailed a Thief (1997)
  • The Cat Who Sang for the Birds (1998)
  • The Cat Who Saw Stars (1999)
  • The Cat Who Robbed a Bank (2000)
  • The Cat Who Smelled a Rat (2001)
  • The Cat Who Went Up the Creek (2002)
  • The Cat Who Brought Down the House (2003)
  • The Cat Who Talked Turkey (2004)
  • The Cat Who Went Bananas (2005)
  • The Cat Who Dropped a Bombshell (2006)
  • The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers (2007)

Tropes featured in these books include:

  • Anyone Can Die: Being beloved by the readers will not save a character from dying. Sometimes they're murdered, but there are also fatal car accidents, heart attacks, and just plain old age.
  • Author Appeal: In a non-sexual example, Lilian Jackson Braun loves cats, and owns her own set of Siamese - who are always named Koko and Yum Yum.
  • Author Avatar: Qwilleran could represent Lilian Jackson Braun herself to a large degree. Like Qwilleran, she apparently does not have any children, and she enjoys living a simple life without much public attention, despite her wealth and accomplishments. That, and the fact that both live with Siamese cats.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Qwill and Polly always end their phone conversations with "à bientôt."
  • Bizarrchitecture: To an extent, Qwill's summer home, a converted apple barn on the Klingenschoen property, which many characters compare with the Guggenheim Museum.
  • Blatant Lies: Fanny Klingenschoen told many of them, but the biggest would have to be the various fibs she told about how to get into her will (e.g. she would leave money to anyone who was named after her). When she dies and leaves everything to Qwill, the locals are rather understandably angry until he sets up the foundation that disperses the money.
  • Bonnie Scotland: Many of the characters are of Scottish descent, and in one book, they take a group trip to Scotland.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Implied to have been the case with the sibling lawyers who initially handled Qwill's inheritance; at the very least, the sister was a Clingy Jealous Girl.
  • Bunny Ears Lawyer: If Koko doesn't fit this trope in cat form, then who would?
    • Qwill himself also has several characteristics of the trope.
  • Busman's Holiday: Qwilleran is a well-known crime-journalist who keeps trying to branch out into other topics. He's never successful, even when he's just trying to take a vacation.
  • Canon Dis Continuity: The 29th book in the series, The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers, was widely regarded as this by many fans who were outraged at the sudden and unexplained changes to the well-loved landscape of the stories.
  • The City vs. the Country: Qwilleran is a big-city journalist who moves to a small town in Moose County under the terms of his Aunt Fanny's will. Several early novels in the series detail his adjustment (and that of his cats).
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Elizabeth Hart sort of appears this way to the natives of Moose County. She's very intelligent, and rather down-to-earth despite her wealthy background, but she's got very different interests than most of the other characters.
  • Cool Old Guy: Homer Tibbett, the nonagenarian expert on local history.
  • Cool Old Lady: Fanny Klingenschoen, Qwill's mother's best friend, who leaves him her millions.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Don Exbridge, founder of XYZ Enterprises, is usually regarded this way.
  • Corrupt Politician: The mayor of Pickaxe, mockingly referred to as "Hizzonor" for most of the series. He's eventually voted out and replaced with Amanda Goodwinter, the local Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Development Hell: The Cat Who Smelled Smoke, the planned 35th installment (including special projects) in the series. Originally scheduled for 2008, then 2009, then canceled.
  • Disappeared Dad: Qwill knows very little about his father, who died while his mother was pregnant. In one book, he learns what happened. His father, an out-of-work actor with a penchant for alcohol, was shot by police officers while committing a robbery.
  • Disguised in Drag: The murderer in one story is revealed to be a man who had been masquerading as a woman.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Qwill, prior to the start of the series, although he later swears off alcohol.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The first three books in the series were written in The Sixties, and then nothing else was done with it until almost 20 years after the publication of the third book. Those who were introduced to the series via the later novels may find the originals somewhat odd; the books were written to be contemporary, meaning that overnight Qwill jumped from 1968 to 1986.
  • Embarrassing First Name: James Mackintosh Qwilleran had his name legally changed. Few characters - possibly none other than Arch Riker - know that his birth name was Merlin James Qwilleran.
  • Everything's Louder with Bagpipes: Police Chief Andrew Brody, like many characters in the series, is of Scottish descent and is known to give stirring bagpipe performances at public events, weddings, and funerals.
  • Exit, Pursued by a Bear: In The Cat Who Said Cheese, the murderer is killed by his accomplice-by-coercion's bees.
  • Fictional Document: The Moose County Something and its predecessor, the Pickaxe Picayune; also City of Brotherly Crime, the book Qwill wrote when he was younger.
  • Franchise Zombie: The series continued for years despite overwhelming agreement that the quality of the novels had greatly declined, and many suspected publisher interference.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: The first three novels were written back in the 60s and Qwilleran smoked a pipe, which was considered to add character. Flash-forward to the 1980s when new books in the series started being published again. A lot more was known about the dangers of smoking and Qwilleran was convinced to drop the pipe. Not only that, but once he stopped smoking, he developed an aversion to tobacco smoke in all forms.
  • Gosh Hornet: Kills the murderer in The Cat Who Said Cheese.
  • Greasy Spoon: Lois's Luncheonette
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Jealousy is described as Polly Duncan's primary flaw. Once Qwilleran starts dating her, he is wholly committed to her. This doesn't stop Polly, however, from being jealous of any other woman that he spends time with, or expresses an interest in him. (It also doesn't stop her from occasionally going out with other men.)
  • Happily Married: Arch Riker and his second wife Mildred; the Tibbetts; Junior and Jodie Goodwinter; and a few of the other couples in the books.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Liz Hart only appears tiny next to her boyfriend, Derek Cuttlebrink, who is seven feet tall.
  • The Hyena: Celia Robinson, who has a loud, musical laugh and laughs even at Qwilleran's mildest quips. In The Cat Who Blew the Whistle, Qwilleran introduces to her the idea of "fine-tuning" her laugh.
  • I Am Not Weasel: In The Cat Who Blew the Whistle, the guy working on Polly Duncan's house refers to Koko as a weasel a couple of times. There are also a couple other instances in which Koko and Yum-Yum are mistaken for animals other than cats, due to the somewhat unusual appearance of Siamese in comparison with the types of cats people are used to, particularly at a distance.
  • In Medias Res: The Cat Who Played Post Office, in which Qwilleran moves to Moose County, opens with a scene in which Qwilleran awakes in a hospital following a bad bicycle wreck with a case of Easy Amnesia that is quickly resolved. Most of the remainder of the book depicts the events that eventually led up to this.
  • Kick the Dog: Arch Riker, Qwill's lifelong best friend, is mentioned to be fond of antique tin, and at one time had a sizeable collection. His first wife managed to get hold of it in their divorce settlement, and promptly opened her own shop - "Tin 'n Stuff" - to sell it.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: Qwilleran, as well as many of the other cast members. The author counts as well.
  • Long Runners: The series has nearly 30 books, plus a handful of side volumes.
  • Man in a Kilt: Probably inevitable, given the Scottish history that was built for Qwilleran's character. Despite this, he resists for a long time, but eventually buys one in a moment of weakness after getting a scare regarding Polly Duncan's health.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Applying to both Qwill and Koko. Qwill's pepper-and-salt moustache bristles occasionally, and he sees it as a sign of raw intuition picking up on something suspicious. Koko at times appears to be psychic, but it's always left ambiguous as to whether or not his catty antics are just what they seem to be or not.
  • Meaningful Funeral: It's frequently mentioned that the funeral of Ephraim Goodwinter, the patriarch of the well-to-do Goodwinter family, was extremely large and of great significance to the people of Moose County. Of course, since most of the people in Moose County kind of hated him, it was meaningful for the wrong sort of reason.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Qwilleran is notorious for his potent coffee brew, though in the final book (which was widely panned by fans), he is portrayed as drinking tea.
  • Mystery Magnet: Lampshaded. One of the characters comments that he cannot remember any dead bodies before Qwilleran came to town.
  • Never One Murder
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: An in-universe sort of variant. Qwill is frequently mentioned by other characters as bearing a strong resemblance to Mark Twain.
  • Noodle Incident: Something took place prior to the start of the series which caused Qwill to lose everything he ever owned, including any photographs he ever had of his mother. Exactly what it was never gets completely revealed, although his disastrous marriage and bout of alcoholism are at least tangentially connected.
  • Non-Idle Rich: When Qwilleran first inherits his billions, he is horrified because he has never needed a great amount of possessions to be happy and loathes the idea of living in a huge mansion with servants. He quickly establishes the Klingenschoen Foundation to dispose of the vast majority of the unwanted fortune; the K-Fund provides grants for small businesses and locals in need. Qwill also later helps to found a more full-featured newspaper in his new hometown of Pickaxe, whose newspaper was previously stuck in the 19th century.
  • On One Condition: Qwill can only inherit the Klingenschoen money if he remains a resident of Moose County for five years. Leaving sooner than that would mean that the money would be turned over to a syndicate in New Jersey.
  • Pun-Based Title: The Moose County Something. When Qwill purchased the local paper after its previous owner's death, he and the staff gave it this placeholder title and held a county-wide vote for a new name. The majority of the residents actually liked calling it the Something, and it stuck.
  • Punny Name: The weatherman in Moose County, Weatherby Goode. Subverted in that it's a self-given stage name; his real name is Joe Bunker.
  • Pyramid Power: In The Cat Who Blew the Whistle, Elizabeth Hart is big on the idea of pyramid power. Unannounced, she and her boyfriend pop over to the Qwilleran's apple barn and set up a makeshift portable pyramid. After they leave, Koko makes his way to the very center of the pyramid and there is a blackout across all of Pickax that doesn't stop until he exits the pyramid.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Literally, in one book, when the vacationing Qwill's car is stolen and the driver turns up dead. The local law enforcement where the car is found, who don't know Qwill, assume the dead man is the owner of the car and issue an incorrect report. While most of Moose County is thrown into deep mourning, Arch goes to where Qwill is staying to get the cats and almost has a heart attack when he finds Qwill sitting there.
  • Running Gag: In the early books, all of Qwill's editors misspell his name with a "q-u" instead of his actual "q-w." This occasionally resurfaces in later installments.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: In the first book, Scrano is O. Narx
  • Secret Identity: A mundane example. Qwill adopts the moniker of "Ronald Frobnitz" when he wants to hide his involvement in some philanthropic effort, such as making a bid in a silent auction on a horrible piece of art that no one else wants.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Qwill encounters two of these in the course of the series. One he meets when taking a vacation to nearby Potato Mountain. The other, who killed not only her father but men who reminded her of her father, is revealed to be a victim of Parental Incest, and has a Split Personality to boot.
  • Sesquipedalian Smith: Eddington Smith, the soft-spoken bookstore owner.
  • Shaggy Search Technique: Koko is often responsible for unintentionally revealing the culprit or final clues... or is he? One of the ongoing themes for the series is the question of whether or not the Siamese is psychic.
  • Shout-Out/To Shakespeare: Both Qwilleran and Polly are big Shakespeare buffs and the series includes everything from minor Shakespeare references to entire Shakespeare plays being performed by the Pickax Theatre Club.
  • Spy Fiction: Played with using the Celia Robinson character, who does missions for Qwilleran ("The Chief") as his "Secret Agent 007 1/2."
  • Stalker with a Crush: Qwill's one-time love interest, Melinda Goodwinter, who goes so far as to try to have his serious girlfriend murdered in an attempt to get him back.
  • Talk About the Weather: Considered simple politeness in Moose County before getting down to more serious subjects.
  • Twin Switch: A dark example in one book, when one brother murders his identical twin and then takes his place.
  • Uncle Pennybags: Qwill takes on many of the characteristics after becoming heir to the Klingenschoen money. He even establishes a charity foundation to distribute the money so that it improves the county.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: It's never clarified where Moose County is actually supposed to be, other than that it's somewhat near the Great Lakes. The books never even mention which state it's in. The only description for its location is that it's "four hundred miles north of everywhere."
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