My wife is a big Lillian Jackson Braun fan, so I was eager to pick up Lilian Jackson Braun's latest book, The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers. She told me that the series is extremely light but that it could be quite charming. After reading this book, however, I have to wonder if that only applies to the previous books in the series. Here is a book in which nothing much happens and any hint of a murder (this is supposed to be a mystery series) happens with about 20 pages left in the book. I'm left wondering what the point of this was.
I'll attempt to do some kind of summary, but it will probably be just as disjointed as the book itself is. Jim Qwilleran is a man with cats, and he's also considered to be one of the richest men in "the northeast central United States" (I'm not sure exactly what area that encompasses, but it evidently gets cold there). He writes a column, called "The Qwill Pen," for the local twice-weekly newspaper, and he spends a lot of his time in this book trying to figure out what he's going to write about each time. But the most important things in the book are his two cats, Koko and Yum-Yum. Koko is a highly intelligent cat who can tell when somebody's going to be driving down the lane or is going to be calling. He also has a strange sense of wrongful death (Qwilleran thinks this ability might have come because Koko has 60 whiskers, which is the only reason the book's title has anything to do with the story). Throughout the book, we see Qwilleran's life as he talks to his ostensible girlfriend, Polly, or to some of the other townsfolk, plans exhibits of strange hats or journal-writing classes, or perhaps figure out what's going on with the old Ledfield fortune now that the old couple is dead. A seemingly natural death occurs, but Koko could provide the clues that indicate that it's really murder. But I'd hate for something nasty like that to get in the way of a performance of Cats or something like that. Life must go on, you know!
A lot is going on in this book, but nothing really happens. Qwilleran gets involved in a lot of side projects, such as the aforementioned exhibit of fancy hats and being asked to lecture at some reading circle. He's also got a biography of some local celebrity coming out as well. With all of the interactions with the strange characters about town, it's very hard to squeeze in the one thing that would actually bring a mystery fan to the book: a mystery. Braun spends almost the entire book having Qwilleran go from project to project, with the death only happening about half-way through (it's an exceedingly short book), and it's only recognized as a murder with about 20 pages to go.
Needless to say, any "solving" of the murder is perfunctory. Koko has the answers; in fact, he's had them all along, but Qwilleran's ignored it because he's too busy with other stuff. One of the characters even says that it's a crime, emphasizing that it really is one, but Qwilleran can't be bothered, I guess, and the person who says it never really follows up. At least twice, Koko lets out his howl that a wrongful death has occurred. The narrator seems to notice this (she tells us often enough about it) but Qwilleran doesn't. Considering these are supposed to be crime-solving cats, you'd think he'd listen to them more often. When Qwilleran finally realizes that a murder has taken place, he immediately knows who did it because Koko has been telling him all along, and the murder is wrapped up in another couple of paragraphs. Of course, the murderer isn't even caught. Instead, we hear that "hopefully [the culprit] will be caught!" Instead of actually catching the killer, we get more inane character interaction.
Braun's writing style includes way too many exclamation points in the dialogue (I normally wouldn't mention that because I have an advance reader's copy of the book, but my wife assures me that this is quite common throughout the series). The dialogue itself seems pointless half the time, though perhaps that's due to the fact that there really isn't a plot in this book. What would normally be the main plot (you know, the one that actually involves a murder) is often covered up by all the other events going on in Qwilleran's life. I've heard of red herrings in mysteries, but I never realized that entire subplots could be red herrings. Which one is the most important? Oh, the one where there is finally a death after half the book. It's almost like the entire book consists of "let's see what Qwilleran and his cats are up to these days" plot threads with little coherence. Oh, they all make sense by themselves, but why they were included is the mystery.
Fans of the series should take note, though. There are a couple of major changes in the series in this book, though I suppose Braun could have them both back to normal by the next one. The first is character-related and the other one is not. Since I have no idea if The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers is representative of the rest of the series, perhaps you might want to check it out of the library first, though. My wife assures me that earlier books aren't this aimless, so it's very possible that even you may be turned off by this book. For me, it's way too cute. I've heard of "cozy" mystery novels, but this one is wrapped up in about thirty blankets, it's so warm.
Give The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers a miss, because it's something the cat hacked up.