Lilian Jackson Braun creates mysteries that contain elements of classic whodunits accented with modern twists to explore themes of justice, duty, and community. Her depiction of cats who contributed to the discovery of clues and were aware of sinister elements in humans was a unique technique when she began writing cat mysteries in the 1960’s. Braun’s feline depictions were authentic, never demonstrating unrealistic behaviors or responses. Her feline characters do not talk or exhibit any supernatural means of communicating with humans.
Braun’s storytelling relies on an omniscient narrator describing Qwilleran’s experiences and revealing details about his cats through the journalist’s perspective. Qwilleran interacts with the cats, interpreting their natural curiosity and destructiveness as signals that serve to point out clues he should investigate. His unexpected role as a wealthy man and philanthropist represents the theme of redemption as he generously shares his money with others to improve their lives.
Braun’s sense of place contributes to the realism of her books. Appropriating scenes with which she is familiar, she capably creates urban and rural settings for her fictional Down Below and Moose County. She enriches her stories with her knowledge of regional history and traditions that connect generations. Expanding her cast and settings, Braun incorporates sufficient variety to create unique, compelling stories.
By the early twenty-first century, however, many of Braun’s novels seemed to consist mostly of a series of scenes lacking a cohesive story. Her writing style was often stiff and did not have the continuity and flow found in her previous stories. Plots often relied on coincidences, and characters were not well developed. Many characters were unlikable and self-indulgent. Although the theme of altruism remained, it lacked the sincerity evidenced in earlier novels. Crimes did not demand the same attention and pursuit of justice as they had in Braun’s early mysteries. Sometimes Qwilleran never elaborated how he came to a solution, and murderers often were dealt with by an accidental death or by the suspect leaving Moose County. Characters did not respond realistically to major losses. Braun’s excessive use of exclamation points seemed contradictory to her characters’ limited enthusiasm.
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards
In the first book of her series, The Cat Who Could Read Backwards (1966), Braun introduces her protagonists, James Qwilleran and Koko. Qwilleran’s past is referred to as he humbly accepts a position as an arts reporter for the Daily Fluxion and reunites with his childhood friend Arch Riker, who becomes an integral character in the series. Although he lacks artistic experience, Qwilleran eagerly approaches his assignments, intending to prove he is a capable reporter despite his previous failures as a...
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