I absolutely idolized my dad’s sister, Mary when I was a little girl. She wore the bluest contacts I’ve ever seen and I remember the thrill of being allowed to watch her put on her her make up. Anything she loved was an automatic like in my book. Aunt Mary loved to read and sharing books. Mysteries mostly, but I think she read just about anything. Whenever I saw her she’d bring me at least one or more books that she had finished reading. She usually had a book or two for my dad or my uncle, too. Aunt Mary is the reason I love reading mysteries, especially “cozy mysteries”. She always saved those books for me. To this day, if I’m having a rough day and need some comfort those are the books I reach for.
Our all time favorite book series is The Cat Who … Mysteries by Lillian Jackson Braun. The protagonist and mystery solver is a man named Jim Qwilleran (with a QW), known as Qwill. At the start of the series he is reporter living in Chicago. He rescues and adopts two Siamese cats, Kao K’o Kung, known as Koko, and Yum Yum. A few books in he inherits a large fortune from a family friend and moves to Pickax City, Moose County, “400 miles north of everywhere”, where he finally finds a place to call home. He becomes a vital part of the community, helping found and fund a newspaper and a philanthropic foundation, the K Fund (named for his benefactor, Fanny Klingenschoen).
Yes, there really is a place called Moose County, 400 miles north of everywhere. The County Seat is Pickax City, population three thousand. And there is a cat names Kao K’o Kung, who is smarter than people.The Cat Who Sniffed Glue, prologue
Every book features a mystery (usually a murder) that Qwill and Koko solve together. Yes, Koko (the cat) is Qwill’s partner in crime solving. Koko, an indoor cat, is something of a mind reader and a psychic, abilities that Qwill believes are due to Koko’s 60 whiskers (most cats, including Yum Yum only have 48). I tried counting PIP! and Sam’s whiskers. Sam would not sit still long enough for me to get a count. PIP! being PIP! let me count them. He’s all black so it was a little tough, but I think PIP! has 48.
Aunt Mary bought every one of the Cat Who … Mystery books, often as soon as they were available. She would read them, pass them along to me and after I finished it we would talk about them … what we thought of the “set up” (each book revolves around a specific event like festivals: Cheese, Winter, Highland or a new location Qwill has temporarily relocated to), who died, what Qwill and Polly (local librarian, Qwill’s regular date) did, and how Koko solved the mystery. Aunt Mary thought that the Koko character was a little ridiculous (as do I) but we loved these books anyway.
When I took out the books to photograph for this post, I started thinking about which of the books would make my favorites list. I picked up each one and read a couple pages and I had to fight to keep myself from rereading the entire series right then. After a lot of back and forth, I decided on these four:
4. The Cat Who Blew the Whistle (1995) : Qwill and Koko solve several mysteries surrounding the owner of the Lumbertown Party Train. // This book is a web of mystery and murder and intrigue and it’s a little more complex than some of the books in the series.
3. The Cat Who Robbed A Bank (2000): Qwill and Koko solve the murder of a traveling estate jewelry dealer during the Highland Games. // Qwill is Scottish and several books talk about his love of Scotland and his desire to connect with his roots. Qwill loves the Highland Games and I think that makes this book stand out to me. I also like the “newer books”.
2. The Cat Who Went Into the Closet (1993): Qwill and Koko solve the mystery of Euphonia Gage’s death while temporarily living in her mansion. Koko digs through closets to find clues and Qwill writes and stages a one man play, “The Big Burning of 1869” // I love the play Qwill performs and the drama surrounding the “traveling” performances. Good mystery, with a couple of fun subplots.
1.The Cat Who Sniffed Glue (1989): Qwill and Koko solve the murders of a bankers son and new wife during the rehearsals for Arsenic and Old Lace . // As you can see from the spine, this is my favorite Cat Who book. I can’t even count how many times I’ve read it. This books is formatted slightly different that the rest of the series: it is broken down into Acts and Scenes with each character given a little introductory sentence. If you want to just jump into the series this is a great one to start with. This one also pulls off an incredible twist at the end.
Today is Aunt Mary’s birthday. She’s been gone just over 6 years now. I still read some of the cozy mystery series she introduced me too, and when I finish a new one I wonder what she’d have said about what her favorite characters are up to. I like to think we would still be reading mysteries together, passing books back and forth, speculating over what’s going to happen next. When I miss her the most I often return to the “Cat Who Books”. When I read them she is with me, talking about Qwill and Polly, and laughing over something Koko or Yum Yum did.