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Book Review: The Cat Who Wasn’t There by Lilian Jackson Braun

Copyright: 1992 by Lilian Jackson Braun
Genre: Mystery

The Cat Who Wasn’t There is the 14th episode of Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who series. Jim Qwilleran has returned to his home in Pickax following his aborted trip to the Potato Mountains (The Cat Who Moved a Mountain). He rushed home when he heard there was a prowler parked outside of girlfriend Polly Duncan’s home. Qwill feared that his millions made her a target for kidnapping. In part to get Polly out of the way for awhile, Qwill agreed to accompany her and a group of citizens from the area on a guided tour of Scotland. After all, he tells anyone who will listen, his mother was a Mackintosh. The tour guide would be a friend of Polly’s, Irma Hasselrich. Also going on the tour was Quill’s old girlfriend, Dr. Melinda Goodwinter, who still had designs on him. As suggested by the title, the cats, Koko and Yum Yum would not be making the trip, hence…they were not there.

The trip didn’t go as planned. Qwill, who seems to dislike eccentric old ladies, children and about half the people in town, quickly becomes bored with the planned tour. Another castle, another battlefield; he misses Koko and Yum Yum. Then Irma is found dead and someone robs one of the tour members. Some of the participants in the tour leave early, Qwill and Polly among them. Once home, Dr. Melinda continues to pursue Qwill, even though he has told her numerous times that he is involved with Polly. The “prowler” is again sighted. With the assistance of the Siamese, who seem to exhibit a sixth sense about mysteries and murders, Qwill unearths some answers that happen to involve Polly and the good doctor. Someone dies by the end of the novel.

The Cat Who Wasn’t There was cute and entertaining, depicting the eccentricities of Qwill and the other people of Pickax. One set of characters were two elderly sisters who collected teddy bears. James Qwilleran is described as a middle age man, divorced, with a history of alcoholism who was once a noted investigative journalist who had traveled the world. He speaks of love for Polly Duncan but it is a strange relationship at best. Particularly odd was the fact that the couple did not travel to Scotland together, even though he was only going because she wanted him to. He is extremely protective of her insisting that he drive her to and from work and anywhere else she wanted to go because of this prowler. Yet, throughout his relationship with Polly, he takes any number of other women out to dinner. He seems to hate Polly’s cat, who he sees as overindulged, in spite of the fact that he never feeds his own cats cat food.

I read this series of books many years ago and am currently rereading them. I remember loving them and actually buying the books new as they came out. They are from a different era, before books were filled with foul language and explicit sex. I don’t remember each individual episode, although I do remember the last one written and perhaps the knowledge of what happened in the end has soured my excitement for the books as I read them today. I think I am remembering them as mysteries with a couple cats in them, which was and still is their allure. But, they are also written with a bit of wit that I am overlooking rather than appreciating. I am going to attack the next volume, The Cat Who Went Into the Closet, with that thought in mind.

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