Lilian Jackson Braun, The Cat Who Brought Down The House (2003)

I have been curious to try this very popular cosy series for a long time, though I had some misgivings about which role the cats played. I was given the twentyfifth in the series about the newspaper columnist James Qwilleran and his cat, set in Pickax, Moose County, and jumped at the opportunity to try Ms Braun for free 🙂

So here is my review, straight from the horse´s mouth.

What I liked:

I enjoyed the setting, the funny names and some of the characters, especially plucky old Thelma Thackeray, daughter of a local business man who made a fortune on potatoes, one way or the other. She comes home to roost, and of course her return is a catalyst, meaning all sorts of disaster follow in her wake.

Here is Pleasant Street, the heart of Pickax:

“They lived in large houses set well apart on one-acre lots – frame houses – painted white and lavished with white jigsaw ornamentation.

To Qwilleran, with his eye for contemporary, they looked like a collection of wedding cakes! Yet, the street had been photographed often and featured in national magazines as a fine example of Carpenter Gothic.”

And then there is Qwilleran himself, or Qwill, who lives in a converted four-storey, octagonal barn (I would love to see that place). A nice and engaging man who has an eye for the good story and the history of his county.

I also enjoyed some of the jokes, particularly this one:

“There´s nothing wrong with shortbread that couldn´t be improved with chocolate frosting and chopped walnuts.”

What I didn´t like

I don´t mind pets in crime fiction (or real life for that matter), as long as they behave in a proper manner. Qwilleran´s Siamese cats do not exactly speak, but apparently Koko is much smarter than any human being in Moose County so basically Qwilleran knows who are the bad guys because his cat has a fit every time it is around someone with a nasty mind.

The writer also has an annoying tendency to point out her own jokes:

“´The cats enjoy meeting a new admirer who will blubber over them. They´re only human.´

His quips always delighted her….”

Furthermore, it is a well-known feature of cosy mysteries that most of the horrible crimes take place off-stage. The problem with this one is that they take place so far off-stage that one often forgets this is supposed to be a mystery.

Will I read more of these mysteries? No.

About Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen

I am a Danish teacher. In my spare time I read, write and review crime fiction.
This entry was posted in American, review, review 2011. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Lilian Jackson Braun, The Cat Who Brought Down The House (2003)

  1. Petty Witter says:

    Loving cats as I do i think I’d enjoy this though, much as I love humour in my books, I’d also find the author pointing out her own jokes annoying, very annoying.

  2. So sad that you didn’t enjoy it! While I haven’t read this particular one, I love her cat-detective books. As for Koko, having been owned by several Siamese over the year, I find Koko’s brilliance and mental superiority over the humans in the community purrrrfectly believable. Do try another! Perhaps you’ll find one you’ll like better. Can’t understand how two of my favs could be at odds.

  3. Margot Kinberg says:

    Dorte – Ah! Now I see a little of why you asked your question about pets in crime fiction. In a way it’s unfortunate that your first experience with reading this series was the 25th novel. By that time in the series, it really wasn’t in my opinion nearly as strong as the first few novels. This particular one isn’t her best in my opinion, so I can understand why you aren’t particularly keen to read more. If you ever do change your mind, I think you’ll find the early part of the series more to your liking.

  4. Tracy: she doesn´t spoil the jokes all the time, but I always notice when they do that. Yet, if you don´t mind a cat who is too clever by half, I think you´ll love these books.

    Linda: so sorry to disappoint a fan, but I worked as a farmhand before I married so I have a country person´s very practical view on pets. 🙂

    Margot: I don´t think even you can make me change my mind in this case 🙂

  5. Ann says:

    I enjoyed many of these books, but I think it’s mostly about timing. I think there are some things that would aggravate me now that didn’t at the time. Margot is right and sometimes authors get a contract for 15 or more books and by the end of the series both the author and reader are getting tired.

  6. Heather says:

    I have read one book in this series and did find it amusing. I am not a cat person, so it didn’t really call out to me. I did give a few of the books to my brother as he is a cat person. After a while he asked me to stop giving him the books as he didn’t get the cat solving mysteries thing. He is more the pet the cat, talk to the cat, accept that a cat is a cat kind of cat owner. Now that I did find funny. I am still left wondering whether he has the books on his shelf, or did he pass them along to another cat lover?

  7. The early ones were a lot better, one was even shortlisted for an Edgar (?) however the latest ones are quite painful and even the cats have less to do.

  8. Ann: some writers can keep it up, others should perhaps have tried to change tack at some point 🙂

    Heather: I have enjoyed several cosy mysteries with cats or dogs, but crime should be solved by the police, not by an animal 🙂

    Karen: I think I have seen some discussions about the deterioration of the series on Goodreads. But I am not really in the mood for more cosies right now 🙂

  9. I haven’t read any of these books for the same reason you didn’t at first. I find it hard when the writers use animals to always solve crimes. Not even the police dogs solve the crimes, they only chase down the criminals.

  10. Kelly says:

    It’s the 25th in the series?? Wow! It must be pretty popular to be that long-lived.

    I have a new fascination for cats due to several I’ve been around lately (though I’m still a confirmed dog person), but I think the one in this series might be a little too smart for my tastes.

  11. I have read one of the early novels in this series and felt much the same as you did with this one – just too twee and unrealistic for me – I’d have to be very desperate to read another.

  12. Bibliophile says:

    I can’t blame you, Dorte. There was a time when readers were convinced that someone was ghosting the books – someone who could write cosy and loved cats but was not good at writing mysteries. This book belongs to that period.

    However, the first four novels in the series are the best mysteries of the whole lot. Braun wrote three to great acclaim and then didn’t get another one published for 18 years. The first four books are darker and the cats are less twee than in the other books, i.e. they are smart and inquisitive cats rather than small, furry, anthropomorphised geniuses like in the later books. The change of scene from a big city to a small community changed the atmosphere of the books and I think many of the fans read the latter ones more to catch up with their favourite characters than to enjoy a good mystery.

    If you do decide to giver Braun a second chance, go for one of those first four books.

  13. Barbara says:

    I always liked The Cat Who . . . books for a light fun read after a long nonfiction or a dreary novel. I have a lot of patience for animal characters, as long as they don’t talk, and I enjoyed the witty names and odd human characters in this series. I also loved Qwill’s remodeled apple barn; I could picture him reading to the cats and getting ideas for his newspaper columns.

  14. Beth F says:

    I really enjoyed the first several of these books — like others have mentioned, they’re quite good. But then the books became too cutesy for me. I’m told the end of series is particularly bad..

  15. Thank you for all your input. I think it proves that writers (or perhaps ghost writers) should know when to let a series die out.

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