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Book Review: The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal by Lilian Jackson Brown

Copyright: 1991 by Lilian Jackson Brown
Genre: Mystery.

The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal is the 12th book of Lilian Jackson Brown’s Cat Who series. (It is her 13th book as a short story collection called The Cat Who Had 14 Tales was published this same year.) For anyone who has not read these delightful books, the series stars one James Qwilleran, a fifty-something-year-old divorced man who lives contentedly with his two Siamese cats, Koko and Yum Yum. Qwill is a retired investigative reporter, who once traveled the world, picked up some bad habits – the worst of which was alcoholism – but managed to get it under control. Four years ago he inherited a fortune from a friend of his mother’s who he called Aunt Fanny. However, Fanny’s will set forth conditions, one of which was that Qwill would be required to reside in Moose County, which was “400 miles north of everywhere” for a period of five years before the estate would be finalized. As a man whose never lived the high life, he was content to give away the money and created a group called the Klingenshoen Foundation to oversee this. Because he is the head of this foundation, he is well-loved and respected by the people of Moose County. He is also known for his musings in the local newspaper where he writes a column called the Qwill Pen. An extraordinary number of murders seem to occur where ever Qwill happens to be living. His investigative inclinations with the aid of his intuitive cat Koko, put him in place to solve these murders.

Qwill has never been one for settling down and The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal opens with he and the cats moving into an old apple barn. The refurbished building is somewhat of a paradise for cats, with lots of windows and ramps throughout the building perfect for running around and viewing nature (particularly birds), or taking that out-of-the-way nap. The apple barn is the location of a cast party following the final showing of the community theatre’s The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eighth. It is also the scene of the murder of the play’s director, Hilary VanBrook, a man whose day job is that of high school principal. VanBrook, although an intelligent man, is not well liked. Qwill, or is it Koko? suspects the man was hiding something. Next catastrophe, Dennis Hough – pronounced Huff we are told more than once – disappears and suspicion points to him as the killer. Dennis was the building contractor who had redone the apple barn. He was also the son of the late Mrs. Cobb, who died after being literally being scared to death in an earlier episode. Dennis had his own problems, the greatest being that his wife had just dumped him. He was found hanging from the rafters of the apple barn, with a noose around his neck. That wasn’t the last death that touched Qwill’s life in the short, 155-page novel. The grandmother to friends of his in Lockmaster died when he was visiting the family.

In spite of all the deaths, the story is entertaining. Qwill does indeed figure out who murdered Hilary VanBrook and why. Throughout the story the author entertains us with the antics of the cats, many of the stories very familiar to those of us who live with cats.

Exert from The Cat Who knew a Cardinal: “Qwillerman had forgotten his chili, and he knew the pizza would be cold, but they could be reheated. There was little left to reheat, however. The cheese and pepperoni had disappeared, and the chili was reduced to beans, while two cats washed up assiduously.”

Unfortunately, the cardinal in the story also met his demise. Koko and this colorful bird met in the window each morning to squawk at each other but the same killer who offed Van Brook took a shot at the cardinal as well. Next up in the series is The Cat Who Moved a Mountain, where the three are on the move again, this time to Big Potato Mountain.

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