Lilian Jackson Braun popularized animal mysteries in the late twentieth century, effectively creating a subgenre of cat mysteries that inspired other authors to invent their own versions of feline sleuths. Beginning with short stories published during the 1960’s in mystery collections, Braun incorporated her artistic and professional experiences and interests in her cat mysteries to create a fictional world that attracted a diverse readership.
Scholars mostly dismissed Braun’s mysteries as being unsubstantial and lacking literary merit. Critics gave her writing mixed reviews. While some reviewers demeaned her cat mysteries as cute and contrived, others praised her unique presentation of mystery characterizations and situations. Editor Anthony Boucher included Braun’s work in the eighteenth annual edition of his Best Detective Stories of the Year (1963).
Despite Braun’s early success, publishing three novels in the cat mystery series from 1966 to 1968, she found that publishers preferred hard-boiled novels and did not create any additional books in the series until nearly two decades later in 1986. This time, Braun quickly secured a loyal following that consistently purchased her books, assuring her commercial success. Her books became a literary phenomenon, selling millions of copies in the United States and in foreign editions and appearing on best-seller lists.
The Cat Who Saw Red (1986) was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America, and The Cat Who Played Brahms (1987) received an Anthony Award nomination. The Winter, 1990, issue of Mystery Readers Journal, discussing animal mysteries, recognized Braun’s pioneering role in that mystery subgenre.