Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Author Lilian Jackson Braun

Some of our blog readers might remember Lilian Jackson Braun, author of the Cat Who cozy mystery series. Sadly she passed away in 2011. 

Her books sometimes drew mixed reviews, as is the case with most book reviews. Some thought her work was simplistic and formulaic, with scanty plotting. Other reviewers praised their warmth and charm. Personally, I enjoyed them. I knew exactly what I was going to find between the covers. And what made Lilian Braun’s books come alive were the cats. For cat lovers, these books were the cat’s meow. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

For anyone who hasn’t read the series, the protagonist was former newspaper reporter, Jim Qwilleran. But his cats, a set of Siamese named Koko and Yum Yum, were the stars. Each book was full of details about cat stuff--purring, eating (lobster, amongst other high class food), playing, and, of course, the cats helping Qwilleran solve his mysteries. Koko and Yum Yum usually did this by being slightly naughty--like pulling a book off the shelf at a most opportune time to give Qwilleran a clue.

Lilian Jackson Braun, was born in Massachusetts in 1916 and began her writing career as a teenager, when she wrote sports poetry for the Detroit News. For years she wrote advertising copy for Detroit department stores. Between 1966 and 1968, she published three novels that gained critical acclaim: "The Cat Who Could Read Backwards," "The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern," and "The Cat Who Turned On and Off." In 1966, the New York Times labeled Braun “the new detective of the year.” She was a hit. What author wouldn't love that? But then she disappeared from the publishing scene for 18 years. That’s a long time to be away from writing novels. Braun said she stopped writing the mysteries because the genre had begun to include more sex and violence. Also, she had a full-time job with the Detroit Free Press that she found satisfying.

When she retired from her job in 1984, her husband encouraged her to write novels again. In 1986, the Berkley Publishing Group reintroduced her work with the publication of "The Cat Who Saw Red." In the next two years, Berkley released four new novels in paperback and reprinted her first three from the sixties. Her series once again rose to the top of the best seller list. 

Braun was an admitted technophobe and wrote all her books in long hand, then typed them herself. She was married twice. Her first husband died. She had been married to her second husband for 32 years when she passed away. 

As an author, I respect another author who writes a successful series that spans so many years. The fact that Braun made a comeback after 18 years of not writing novels is also encouraging—it’s never too late to start again. And she stuck to her guns--there was never any gratuitous sex or violence in her novels.

After Jackson passed away (of a lung infection), her second husband, Earl Bettinger, said her one regret was that her failing health prevented her from finishing her last novel, “The Cat Who Smelled Smoke.”

“She regretted it most of all because so many fans wanted another book,” Earl Bettinger said.

Now that is a true author!


  1. Thank you, Candice for such an inspirational article - first class. Someday I may read her books - everyone seems to light up when "The Cat Who" series is mentioned. What a wonderful legacy she leaves!

    ~Nancy Jill

  2. Oh, I adore Braun's books! I really love them. I started reading them in Jr High when I was at that awkward age that wanted to read adult level fiction, but still needed wholesome books. (I wonder if even kids books are wholesome anymore?!) Braun fit the bill, but more than that, her books transitioned with me and I continued to love them as an adult! Never outgrew them. :)

    I was recently caught up in a conversation on "What makes a cozy mystery?"

    There are a lot of good definitions out there--Goodreads has a nice comprehensive one.

    I hadn't realized that The Cat Who books began in the late other words, while Agatha Christie was still active! While Nancy Drew was at her peak! I love knowing that Christie published while Doyle was still writing and Braun published while Christie was still writing. It's just lovely.

    I think Cozies were a deliberate reaction to what Braun was seeing as the trend for mysteries in the late 60's and love them even more knowing there were the work of people taking an intentional stand against objectionable material!

  3. Traci, I didn't know Braun was writing in the sixties, either, until I researched this article. I love this woman even more now that I've studied her life. And I think I'm going to begin buying her books for my own library. Nancy, yes. She does leave quite a legacy.

  4. Nancy--Fascinating profile on Braun! And inspiring to all cozy authors out there. Thank you.

  5. Loved her books Candice! Do y'all find that there are people who just don't "get" cozies and think your writing is off base because they haven't read them or don't understand them?

  6. Sometimes I think that's true, Deborah.

  7. That's a great story. I wondered once why there was such a gap in the middle of the series, when Qwill inherits and moves from the city north. I think it's great that she was able to start the series up again after her long absence. It shows that the audience for her cozies was still there, waiting.

  8. Such great writing. I love the books and the author. The last book was finished by her husband who had Quills barn burn down and Quills girl friend decide to stay in Paris. That is a book I will never read again. There are people who wanted to do a rewrite but could not for legal reasons. Such a wonderful author. She will be missed. Her husband Earl did her and all her fans a great dis-service by destroying everything in the Cat Who had 60 Whiskers.

    1. Difficult to understand what grief can do to someone who's lost a spouse.


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