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Book Review: The Cat Who Went Into the Closet by Lilian Jackson Braun

Copyright: 1993 by Lilian Jackson Braun.
Genre: Mystery, Humor.

A conversation between Junior Goodwinter and Jim Qwilleran at Junior’s grandmother’s burial:

“Would you like an apple?” The two men stood munching in silence for a while, Junior staring at the grave and Qwilleran gazing around the horizon. “Wish I had a flower to throw on the grave before we leave.” “We could bury our apple cores. They’d sprout and produce apple blossoms every spring.”

I must admit I had never considered the humor in Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who series until recently. As a cat and mystery lover, I read the series years ago. I am struck now, with the realization that the author had a talent for the bizarre and whimsical. I can’t think of any funeral I have ever attended where the mourners munched on apples as they stood over the grave, much less what I saw as the disrespect of throwing the cores on top the casket. Once I step out of my own narrow expectations, I see much more in these tales than I did in the past.

The Cat Who Went Into the Closet is the 15th of Braun’s series starring middle-aged millionaire Jim Qwilleran and his Siamese cats, Koko and Yum Yum. In this episode, the threesome have moved into an old mansion on Goodwinter Blvd., because their permanent residence in a converted apple barn is unsuitable for winters in the city of Pickax, which is “400 miles north of every where.” The home belongs to Junior, a fellow employee at the Moose County Something, a local newspaper. Once he moved in, Qwill set about exploring the closets in the old home, finding some interesting notes about a big fire that destroyed much of area back in 1869. Qwill wrote a one man play based on that disaster and the story opens with his first performance.

Qwill is a crotchety old man who doesn’t have much appreciation for children or animals other than Koko and Yum Yum, who he believes are smarter than other animals but almost superhuman. Throughout the story, he is less than pleased when he finds he has to pass out Halloween treats. Refusing to hand out candy (although he, himself has been known to indulge in that second piece of pie) Qwill buys a bushel of apples. It was one of the many leftovers that graced the grave of Euphonia Gage, Junior’s grandmother. She had died of an apparent suicide while living in a senior’s trailer park in Florida. This was rather unexpected for the active lady, who was in her late 80’s and who showed no signs of depression. Qwill suspected murder and set about a quiet investigation of Gage’s death, with Koko and Yum Yum providing clues with tokens they pulled out of the closets. In the mean time he is forced to tolerate children in a number of other circumstances, as the audience for performances of “The Burning of 1869″ are often children and even worse, he is roped into playing Santa Claus in the Pickax Thanksgiving Day Parade.

One possible murder is never it when Qwill and the cats enter the picture. A young woman comes to Qwill regarding the disappearance of her father. His body turns up on Qwill’s property and it appears that the murder is somehow connected to the death of Euphonia Gage. Celia Robinson, a resident at the Florida trailer park is recruited to aid Qwill in his investigations. They discuss Celia getting permission to have a cat, as a decoy in the investigation:

Celia says to Qwill, “I’ve been thinking about a name. We don’t know whether it will be a boy or a girl, but either way I think Windy would be a good name, since it’s supposed to be from Chicago.” “Do you have a second choice?” Qwilleran asked. “Windy has other connotations when applied to an animal.”

Ultimately the mystery is solved and Qwill and the cats are on to the next novel. That will be The Cat Who Came to Breakfast.

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