Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Book #20: The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun

"The Cat Who Could Read Backwards" is the first book in the lengthy series by recently deceased author Lilian Jackson Braun. First published in 1966, this book kicked off a series of 29 books featuring newspaper reporter Jim Qwilleran.

In this first book, Koko the Siamese cat (who can read newspaper headlines backwards) does not actually belong to Qwilleran, but belongs to his landlord and art critic at the Daily Fluxion, George Bonifield Mountclemens. Qwilleran also works at the Daily Fluxion but he is in the Features Department, writing feel-good pieces on the artists that Mountclemens has offended with his harsh criticisms.

Qwilleran is used to writing more serious articles, at one time working as a police reporter. When a local art gallery is the scene for a brutal murder, Qwilleran's old instincts kick in and he begins to ask questions, trying to figure out who might have committed the crime. When two more deaths occur, Qwilleran develops new theories and is even assisted by Koko, who leads him to clues.

One of the things I most enjoyed about this book is the fact that it was written in the 60s. There are no cell phones or computers. If someone wants to make a phone call, they must track down a telephone. Articles are typed on manual typewriters, not emailed or dropboxed in. Qwilleran notes at one point when visiting a local wealthy artist how his house is "wired to do all kinds of tricks" such as having electronic gates and an intercom at the driveway.

There are lots of potential suspects in this book. Artists who are angry with the local critic along with the galleries and museum in town that connect them all make for a labyrinth of possible scenarios. I developed my own theories along the way, but never considered the way in which it actually turned out.

"The Cat Who Could Read Backwards" is a fun mystery that I would recommend to fans of cozy mysteries. If you have read the series, I would love to know what you thought of the books and whether the series should be read in order or if you can skip around.

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