Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Cat Who...

A Little Background: I came across my first Cat Who mystery at the library. I read a few of these books and enjoyed them but was not exactly obsessed until I found The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, the very first of the Cat Who mysteries published in 1966. I was hooked. Since then I have searched out every Cat Who title at each book sale I came across. There is nothing better than catching up with old friends which is what it feels like when you read these books by Lilian Jackson Braun.

Book Description: The Cat Who Could Read Backwards

The very first in a series of appealing mysteries featuring James Qwilleran. The story opens with hardnosed investigative reporter Qwilleran interviewing for a job at the Daily Fluxion. He is about to be hired as a reporter digging up assignments focusing on art but not as a critic, the paper already has a controversial one. The editor points out that We’ll want you to get around on the beat, meet a lot of artists, shake a few hands, make friends for the paper. Qwilleran can see his future turning into this headline: Journalist Sinks to Role of Glad-hander. It’ll be a nice clean beat, he’s assured and you’ll meet some decent people for a change. You’ve probably had your fill of mobsters and con men. As it turns out, his childhood friend Arch Riker is the features editor and after a good long talk over corned beef sandwiches, Qwilleran accepts the position. Thus begins our ascent into the Cat Who mysteries.

In this story we will meet a lot of interesting and irascible characters, we find out how a very imperious Siamese named Kao K’o-Kung comes to share in Qwill’s life, oh, and along the way we solve a murder or two. This “fluff” assignment turns out to be anything but as Qwill will come to realize.

Book Description: The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers

Have you ever tried to count your cat’s whiskers? I have and it can be a treacherous feat as most cats don’t like to be held for more than 5 seconds, at least that’s how my feline feels about it. It’s akin to clipping his nails or having a bath. Dangerous territory so I like to leave it up to the professionals, groomers that is.

In this 29th outing of the Cat Who series, things are changing in Pickax and not all for the better. Nothing stays the same forever and life after all is about ebb and flow. But one constant and glorious advantage to small town living is being able to know your neighbor. The memorable characters that populate Pickax, 400 miles north of everywhere, are what draw you to the series. But there is change on the horizon.

A new senior center is up and coming, a playful production of Cats is in the works, Polly Duncan is off to Paris with no sign of returning soon, and then there is the mysterious death from a bee sting that leaves the town startled. Koko had predicted the disaster. Is it because he has sixty whiskers, a few more than the ordinary feline? Even more importantly, can it be that Qwill has a new love interest?

This story is a little disjointed when compared to Braun’s previous outings but then we have yet to see the publication of the follow up The Cat Who Smelled Smoke. Perhaps a wrap up would have been provided, alas, we will never know as the publisher Putnam put the kibosh on the book’s publication. It has left us all sadly hanging by a whisker.

About the Author:

Lilian Jackson Braun is not without a little mystery herself. Born in 1913, Braun published three Cat Who novels to significant acclaim between 1966 and 1968 and then mysteriously disappeared. The author was reintroduced to the public in 1986 with a string of best sellers to keep amateur sleuths sated. The series is lighthearted and Braun attributes her success to the fact that “people are simply tired of all the blood.” What turned out to be her last book The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers was published in 2007. Braun’s next work The Cat Who Smelled Smoke was ultimately cancelled by the publisher Putnam. No word as to why.

Braun was the "Good Living" editor of The Detroit Free Press for 29 years. She lives with two Siamese cats and her husband, Earl Bettinger, in North Carolina. Each of her books is dedicated to "Earl Bettinger the husband who..."

Just for Fun: If I could give a face to James Qwilleran it would be Tom Selleck. Here is a side by side comparison of Braun’s Cat Who protagonist and the actor Tom Selleck.

James "Qwill" Qwilleran
Height: 6’1”
Weight: average to slightly overweigh
Age: 40s-mid 50’s
Outstanding Feature: luxuriant moustache

Occupation: journalist and amateur sleuth

Tom Selleck

Height: 6'4"
Weight: Looks just right to me!
Age: 65 (65 is the new 55)
Outstanding Feature: Luxuriant moustache

Occupation: actor, played detective on TV

I rest my case!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Murder with All the Trimmings

A Little Background: It’s amazing what you can find at book sales. Take this little paperback I found by an author I was not familiar with, Elaine Viets. I was attracted to the cover, picked it up and realized it was a cozy mystery – my favorite! I thought it was time to investigate a new series.

Meet Josie Marcus, like all single moms, she is a juggler. Not only is she a mom to 9-year old Amelia, Josie works as a mystery shopper (oh, the bane of my existence when I worked in hotels). She has a creepy boss, a nice enough boyfriend (that comes with baggage), a mother with antiquated ideas who lives one floor above her, a snoopy neighbor, and an ex-love (Amelia’s dad) who comes visiting after being released from…jail.

It’s just another day as Josie picks up Amelia from school. Unfortunately, it’s a day that quickly heads south when Amelia asks to see her mom’s wedding pictures. To paraphrase, this will turn out to be…a day that will live in infamy. One small problem, Josie and Amelia’s father were never wed. Josie has also told her daughter that her father is dead. Fast forward to later that evening when one not so dead father turns up at Josie’s front door having just been released from prison on a technicality. Carumba!

Mike, Josie’s current boyfriend, is trying to support his ex wife’s new business, a year round Christmas store that’s slightly X-rated. Add to the mix Mike’s surly teenage daughter and his desire for a happy blended family. Listen, don’t start singing The Brady Bunch theme song just yet!

The holidays are in full swing, and the plot thickens as one of the businesses Josie is assigned to “shop” is Mike’s ex-wife’s shop. The religious community is up in arms with the slightly porno Christmas shop and one of the protestors is “accidentally” injured in front of the shop by falling snow and ice from the shop’s roof. If that’s not enough, two people take seriously ill after eating a holiday cake in a competing “legitimate” Christmas shop. What is going on?

My Take: What I especially enjoyed about this tome, was the story could very well be a slice of a real woman’s life. Our lives seem sometimes to be a jumble of this and that and we are always in a multi tasking mode just like Josie. I am constantly amazed at how mom’s always manage to cope. Speaking of which, HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY to all the mom’s out there, especially my mom! You’re awesome!

Meet the Author:

Elaine Viets put her journalism degree to good use as a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for twenty-five years. She also hosted an Emmy Awarding winning local light news program called Viets Beat in 1989-1990. Her career sent her on to Washington, DC where sh wrote a syndicated column carried by United Feature Syndicate and later by United Media. She now resides in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida where she writes her best-selling cozy mysteries. In April 2007, Viets suffered a stroke but has recovered and is still writing. The author is an Agatha Award and Anthony Award winner and is a contributor on The Lipstick Chronicles. You can visit Viets at her website and follow her on Facebook.