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From Barnes & NobleThe Cat's Meow
Not long ago I was interviewed on the radio and was asked about several authors. I never say a bad public word about any of my fellow scribes. That's one of my rules.
But when the host asked me about Lilian Jackson Braun, I was momentarily stumped. Not because I had a headful of negative things to say about her, but simply because I've never been able to articulate why I find her so fascinating.
Let me try here.
First of all, her books are supra-literary. Which is to say that she can't be judged by the same standards other writers are. She writes on a level of mythic archetypes that reminds me of the Brothers Grimm, or perhaps Lewis Carroll. There is never even the slightest attempt to be realistic. She is, if anything, a hermetically sealed surrealist, as self-contained and self-explained as a great painting. You can study her for a long, long time and appreciate her essence without ever understanding it. Quite often her books have the quality of a seemingly pleasant but vaguely disturbing dream -- not a nightmare; nothing that crude. She is clever, cute, coy, cunning, and occasionally contrary in depicting her sleuth-cat. She never seems quite as interested in her human beings.
I hope this doesn't sound pretentious or portentous, all these words about what are intended to be whimsical cat mysteries. Because they aren't cat mysteries, they're depictions of a dreamworld as individual as a painting by Vermeer or Hopper. This isn't to suggest that they're in any way profound or Freudian in the clichéd sense, but they do have that plucky personal flavor of Lewis Carroll, a world skewed for his pleasure and ours. There is nothing else remotely like these tales. Not in mystery fiction. Not in literary fiction. You'd have to go to first-rate children's literature to find their equivalent. Not even the Harry Potter books are as odd and skewed as these -- and they're high fantasy.
For the record, The Cat Who Robbed a Bank has to do with dirty deeds at the Pickax hotel, with Jim Qwilleran and our favorite Siamese cats, Koko and Yum Yum, eventually sorting things out. Not that the specific storyline matters. It's a book by Lilian Jackson Braun, and that says it all.