The Cat Who Sang for the Birds (The Cat Who... Series #20)

( 13 )

Overview

In this delightful new novel featuring Jim Qwilleran and his lovable cats, Koko and Yum Yum, the rites of spring are celebrated with the fine art of birdcalling....and a fateful act of murder. It seems that this spring, a cat's fancy may turn to crime-solving...

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The Cat Who Sang for the Birds (The Cat Who... Series #20)

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Overview

In this delightful new novel featuring Jim Qwilleran and his lovable cats, Koko and Yum Yum, the rites of spring are celebrated with the fine art of birdcalling....and a fateful act of murder. It seems that this spring, a cat's fancy may turn to crime-solving...

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
The Cat Who Sang for the Birds is undeniably trashy fun. Jim Mackintosh Qwilleran and his dynamic feline duo, Koko and Yum-Yum, join forces once again to conquer the never-ending evil forces in rural Moose County. In this gripping installment of Braun's Cat series, middle-aged, curmudgeonly reporter Qwilleran is pitted against a popular local politician, Chet Ramsbottom.

The opening of the County Art Center heralds a new crime wave: Missing artwork, breaking and entering, and the increasingly foul language of a green parrot named Jasper suggest that something is wrong in this quiet corner of Maine. Qwilleran himself cries foul when a neighbor, Maude Coggin, dies in an unstoppable fire in her home immediately after selling off the bulk of her valuable farm. Who bought the farm out from under the old woman? Qwilleran and his usual cast of characters, including longtime girlfriend Polly Duncan and his newspaper buddy Arch Riker, determine to find out.

At Mrs. Coggin's funeral, Qwilleran turns his sharp eye to the crowd, checking for any missing faces. One noticeable minus is Beverly Forfar, the director of the Art Center, who was only too happy to see "the eyesore across the road" burn to the ground. Is she involved? Was the fire intentional? Or is Ms. Forfar simply more concerned with aesthetics than human life? The answer to his questions about the farm lie within the Art Center, but not as Qwilleran expects to find them.

And what of the mysterious happenings at the Art Center? Someone is entering the center late at night and watching movies in the Click Club.Nothing is missing, but the culprits leave something behind—the acrid smell of cigarette smoke. No one who works at the center smokes, particularly since Beverly laid down the rules, so it can't be an inside job, but there is no sign of forced entry. The movie fans must have a key. Since we know that crimes in Moose County don't occur independently of one another, Qwilleran searches for the link between the Art Center and Maude Coggin's land.

The ownership of the land seems to be his only clue. Via a string of seemingly unrelated occurrences—an urgent letter, a furry package on his front step, and the arrival of Painted Lady butterflies—Qwilleran learns that the land is owned by Northern Land Improvement, aka XYZ Enterprises, a Ramsbottom operation. Celia Robinson, Qwilleran's partner against crime, does a little reconnaissance work and discovers that the old Coggin Farm is held by Margaret Ramsbottom, the politician's wife! What is Chet trying to hide by putting the deed in Margaret's name?

With the help of the whimsically named Rollo McBee, Qwilleran finds a rusty coffee can sealed with electrical tape beneath the charred remains of Mrs. Coggin's outhouse. One hundred thousand dollars has been vacuum-packed in fresh grounds. Qwilleran's efforts to find the heirs lead him on a final manic goose chase through the artist community of Moose County and cause him to experiment with a new and unsavory cuisine—barbecue! The can is the final clue, and the cause of Qwill's ultimate triumph.

"The Cat Who Sang for the Birds" promises to please avid Braun fans and mystery lovers alike as it leads readers on a fast-paced romp through a crime-ridden rural town, "400 miles north of everywhere."

—Sharon Cleary

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Koko is once again cat of the hour in this barely puzzling 20th entry in the series featuring former newsman Jim Qwilleran and his sleuthing Siamese cat companions (The Cat Who Tailed a Thief, 1997, was the 19th). Although most residents of Pickax City are enthralled by its new art museum, some movers and shakers are less than happy with the unsightly homestead across the road from it. Qwill interviews the garrulous woman who lives there and is enchanted with her plainspoken manner. But very soon she dies in a fire that destroys her home; at just about the same time, someone breaks into the museum and steals some paintings. Qwill quietly orchestrates a large funeral for the woman. Community happenings and his personal life occupy much of Qwill's time as he coordinates the town spelling bee, which is being promoted as an athletic event, observes the strange behavior of a young woman who paints pictures of butterflies and battles bouts of jealousy as his lady love, librarian Polly, gets her portrait painted by an affable artist. It's up to the prescient Koko and his confrere Yum Yum to nudge Qwill into uncovering the town's more mysterious goings-on. Cat and Qwilleran fans will welcome this benign series addition, which chronicles the ongoing relationships of the series characters with only a whisker's twitch of crime solving.
School Library Journal
YA- Braun continues the adventures of the odd, but successful, sleuthing team of Jim Quilleran and his cats. When Koko begins knocking books off the library shelf, Jim knows that his feline is once again using his unusual talents to prophesy future events of the murderous kind. Taking hints from the cat, and clues from the murder of his elderly neighbor and the disappearance of a young artist, the man sorts out the motive for and perpetrator behind the mayhem. By providing background on the various characters and their relationships and mentioning previous events, the author makes sure that even first timers to the series can enjoy this title. The strongly defined personalities of the main characters lend interest and the plot has realistic complexities that assure a steady turning of pages. Braun's use of details and discussions about everyday events enhances the feeling of community interconnections and concerns. Koko's quirky predictions and other cat-ly antics add spice to an already enticing mystery. A light, entertaining whodunit that offers the added appeal of cats and their often mysterious ways. -Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Kirkus Reviews
More dire doings in Pickax ("400 miles north of everywhere"), where bachelor zillionaire Jim Qwilleran keeps a paternalistic eye on the town from his opulent barn house and his columnist job on Moose County Something, the local paper. Pickax has been saddened by the death of 93-year-old recluse Maude Coggin in a supposedly accidental fire in her decrepit house soon after she'd sold her hundred-acre farm, at a giveaway price, to buyers called Northern Land Improvement. Qwill's suspicions of this deal, reinforced by prescient cats Koko and Yum Yum, lead to his finding the company nonexistent. Some big-time chicanery is afoot, not to mention other odd happenings: a break-in and theft at the recently opened art center; an old scandal new to Qwill; the misgivings of boutique owner Elizabeth Hart about her boyfriend Derek's being offered a job as manager of Chet's Barbecuea downscale bar owned by town councilman Chet Ramsbottom. And then there's young butterfly-breeder Phoebe Sloan, whose unsavory boyfriend Jake is bartender at Chet's. When the town's major annual event takes placeit's a spelling beePhoebe is missing from her team. With help from Qwill and, of course, Koko and Yum Yum, the discovery of her body in Bloody Creek brings about the downfall of Pickax's corrupting elements. Braun's terminally arch mixture (The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, 1997, etc.) is even more extreme than before as confusion reigns, characters proliferate, and Qwill, with his second-sighted assistants, once more solves Pickax's problems.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780515124637
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/28/1999
  • Series: Cat Who... Series , #20
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 162,894
  • Product dimensions: 4.26 (w) x 6.88 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Lilian Jackson Braun
Lilian Jackson Braun
For nearly four decades, cat lover Lilian Jackson Braun has been turning out mysteries in her The Cat Who...series, starring multifaceted sleuth Jim Qwilleran and his two helpful cats, Koko and Yum Yum. Wryly but tamely written, Braun's books prove that quaintness and crime need not be mutually exclusive.

Biography

The history of Lilian Jackson Braun is perhaps as exciting and mysterious as her novels. Between 1966 and 1968, she published three novels to 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." Then, for reasons unknown, the rising mystery author disappeared from the publishing scene.

It wasn't until 1986 that the Berkley Publishing Group reintroduced Braun to the public with the publication of an original paperback, The Cat Who Saw Red. Within two years, Berkeley released four new novels in paperback and reprinted the three mysteries from the sixties. G.P. Putnam's Sons has since published seventeen Cat Who... novels, among them The Cat Who Went Up The Creek, The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, The Cat Who Robbed The Bank, The Cat Who Saw Stars, The Cat Who Tailed a Thief, The Cat Who Blew the Whistle, The Cat Who Said Cheese, The Cat Who Came to Breakfast, The Cat Who Went Into The Closet, The Cat Who Wasn't There, The Cat Who Moved The Mountain, The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal, The Cat Who Lived High, The Cat who Talked to Ghosts, The Cat Who Went Underground, The Cat Who Sniffed Glue, The Cat Who Saw Stars, and The Cat Who Sang For the Birds.

Even though Braun claims that her cats have never done anything extraordinary, her fictional cats, Koko and Yum Yum, solve crimes and delight fans in book after book. Braun says the reason for her success is that "people are simply tired of all the blood. I write what is called the classic mystery." She says that while "not all mystery fans like cats, all cat-fanciers seem to like mysteries. That makes for a large audience, since 26% of all American households own 53.9 million cats between them."

Braun was the "Good Living" editor of The Detroit Free Press for 29 years.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

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    1. Hometown:
      North Carolina
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1915
    2. Place of Birth:
      Massachusetts
    1. Date of Death:
      June 4, 2011
    2. Place of Death:
      South Carolina

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One


Following an unseasonable thaw and disastrous flooding, spring came early to Moose County, 400 miles north of everywhere. In Pickax City, the county seat, flowerboxes on Main Street were blooming in April, birds were singing in Park Circle, mosquitoes were hatching in the bogs, and strangers were beginning to appear in the campgrounds and on the streets of downtown.

parking lot alongside a small green sedan, and a man wearing a black jersey slipped out of the driver's seat. He glanced furtively to the left and right, and, leaving the motor running, he opened the tailgate. Then he unlocked the trunk of the sedan and quickly transferred something from his vehicle to the other, after which he lost no time in driving away.

might have described him as a Caucasian male, middle-aged, about six feet two, with slightly graying hair and an enormous pepper-and-salt moustache. On the other hand, any resident of Pickax (population 3,000) would have recognized him immediately. He was James Mackintosh Qwilleran, columnist for the Moose County Something and--by a fluke of fate--the richest man in northeast central United States. He had reason to be furtive about the parking-lot caper. In Pickax, everyone knew everyone's business and discussed it freely on the phone, on street corners, and in the coffee shops. Individuals would say:

boyfriend. She's been a widow for a heck of a long time."

birthday present. Wonder what she gave him."

she's at work, and puts the stuff in her car."

could quit her job at the library."

had been an important crime reporter Down Below, as they called the mega-cities south of the Forty-Ninth Parallel. They knew that something sinister had wrecked his career. They would say:

them millions! Talk about luck!"

fella. Friendly. Nothin' highfalutin about Mr. Q!"

barn with two cats."

and he had established the Klingenschoen Foundation to distribute his wealth for the betterment of the community. This generosity, plus his genial personality, had made him a local hero. For his part, he was contented with small-town life and his relationship with the director of the library. Still, his brooding gaze carried a burden of sadness that made the good folk of Moose County ask each other questions.

hand in copy for his column, "Straight from the Qwill Pen." Then he stopped at the used book store and browsed for a while, buying a 1939 copy of Nathanael West's book, The Day of the Locust. At Toodle's Market he asked Grandma Toodle to help him select fruit and vegetables for Polly. These he transferred to her car on the library parking lot, hoping to avoid notice by the ubiquitous busybodies.

he heard sirens and saw flashing lights heading south on Main Street. With a journalist's instinct he followed the emergency vans, at the same time calling the city desk on the car phone.

earlier, and Roger's already on his way there."

into the street leading to the high school. By the time Qwilleran arrived on the scene, the reporter was snapping newsphotos of a gruesome accident in front of the school.

victims covered with blood, broken glass everywhere. One passenger appeared to be trapped inside the worst wreck. Horrified students crowded the school lawn, restrained by a yellow cordon of police tape. Ambulance crews were in action. A drunk driver was hustled to a patrol car. Stretcher bearers rushed one serious case to a medical helicopter that had landed on the school parking lot. Meanwhile, groans and cries rose from the shocked onlookers as they recognized their bloodied classmates. Finally the rescue squad's metal cutters sliced through the car body to reach the trapped victim, who was taken away in a body bag.

system ordered all students to return to the building at once and report to the auditorium.

stroked his moustache in perplexity and beckoned to the reporter, who had started packing his photo gear.

Where'd you get it?"

saying in a confidential tone, "Mock accident. To discourage underage drinking. Tomorrow night's the Spring Fling."

leave the building immediately because of contamination in the ventilating system. I got a little queasy myself when I saw all the blood ... and I knew it was fake!"

Roger, it would have fooled me if your deskman hadn't said the paper was tipped off earlier. What did he mean by that?"

whole thing was a fantastic job of planning and secrecy."

a kids' art show. I can be late." Roger headed for his van. "Meet you there."

eatery that had been feeding downtown workers and shoppers for thirty years. Lois Inchpot--the loud, bossy, hard-working proprietor--served large portions of moderately priced comfort food to loyal customers who considered her a civic treasure. The restaurant was empty when the two newsmen arrived.

pass-through. "The lunch specials are off! And we're low on soup!"

apple pie left."

lemon."

stark black against his unusually white complexion. A former history teacher, he had switched to journalism when the Moose County Something was launched. He was married to the daughter of the second wife of the publisher. Nepotism in Moose County was not only ethically acceptable but enthusiastically practiced.

melodrama at the school?" More than anything else he disliked being uninformed and taken by surprise. "Who dreamed it up, anyway?"

they were able to keep it under wraps in spite of all the different organizations and personnel involved."

congenital gossips," Qwilleran added. "All of Pickax knows I've started doing Polly's grocery shopping, even though I slink around like a footpad."

unpolluted paradise," the younger man said. "What did you think of the kids who did the playacting? They're all students who've been affected in some way by drunk drivers. What did you think of their bloody makeup? It was done by paramedics from EMS."

enjoyed it, but will their efforts accomplish anything?"

drink at school parties."

mugs of coffee in the other, and forks and spoons in her apron pocket. "If you guys spill anythin', clean it up!" she ordered with swaggering authority. "I just finished settin' up for supper, and my help don't come on till four-thirty."

Roger he put the usual question: "Anything new at the paper?"

made a sensational story, but--"

interrupted.

was the usual go-round. I know you newsguys from Down Below are hipped on the public's right to know, but we have different ideas up here. If we reported the vandalism in any depth, we'd be (a) boosting the perpetrator's ego, and (b) encouraging copycats, and (c) starting a witch-hunt."

tease him.

Roger's pale face. He was a native of Moose County, and junior Goodwinter, the young managing editor, was a fourth-generation native. Arch Riker, the publisher, was a transplant from Down Below, reluctant to abandon his journalistic integrity. Qwilleran had lived in the north country long enough to appreciate both sides of the argument.

to be another Salem. Last night somebody spray-painted the front of an old farmhouse with the word witch in big yellow letters, two feet high. An old woman lives there alone. She's in her nineties and kind of odd, but this neck of the woods is full of oddballs."

moustache with his knuckles. "Which farmhouse?"

your property."

dowser, by any chance?"

dowsing, you know, sometimes called water-witching. It's controversial Down Below. How do you feel about it?"

without hiring a dowser to pick the spot," Roger said. "It sounds crazy--using a forked stick to locate undergound water--but they say it works, so I don't knock it. Qwill, how do you keep coming up with ideas for the `Qwill Pen'? I would've run dry a long time ago."

taught me how to write a thousand words about anything--or nothing. Talk about witches! That woman bewitched us with her big, round, watery eyes! Behind her back we called her Mrs. Fish-eye, but she knew her craft, and she knew how to teach! Every time I sit down at the typewriter to pound out another column, I mutter a thank-you to Mrs. Fish-eye."

history classes," said the ex-teacher.

never told Mrs. Fish-eye how I appreciated her, and now it's too late. I don't even remember her real name, and I doubt whether she's still alive. She was old when I was in tenth grade."

mug.

bike I see you riding on Sandpit Road?"

advertised in a bike magazine."

I believe Thanet was influenced by aircraft design."

Qwilleran never said no to coffee. "Made a fresh pot just for you," she said as she poured. "Don't know why."

undeserving wretch, and you're a good soul with a kind heart and a sweet disposition."

kitchen.

never remember the names and ages of his friends' offspring, or even how many there were and which sex.

soccer. I'm coaching the team, believe it or not--the Pickax Pygmies ... How are your cats?" Roger was mortally afraid of cats, and it was an act of courage even to inquire about their health.

after spending the winter in a condo; it cramped their royal style. I've just built a gazebo behind the barn so they can enjoy the fresh air and commune with the wildlife."

Roger looked at him hopefully. "I'm the only reporter working weekends this month, and there's a breaking story Saturday afternoon, but ... that's when I'm duty-bound to drive a vanload of kids to the big game with the Lockmaster Lilliputians. I need someone to cover for me."

wary of substituting. "What's the barn connection?"

the metal storage barn at the Goodwinter Farmhouse Museum. It's a dedication. An open house for the general public."

Moose County as a city-bred greenhorn from Down Below. Roger had been the first native to cross his path. Patiently and without ridicule, Roger had explained that the threatening footsteps thudding across the roof after dark were those of a raccoon and not a burglar. The hair-raising screams in the middle of the night were not those of a woman being abducted but a wild rabbit being seized by an owl. "Well, I suppose I could handle it," he said to the anxious young reporter. "Spot news for Monday, I suppose."

page ... Gee, thanks, Qwill! I really appreciate it!" Roger looked at his watch. "I've gotta jump on my horse."

magnanimity; at the cash register it was possible to scrounge some turkey or pot roast for the Siamese.

banged the keys on the old-fashioned machine. "Tomorrow's special--fish 'n' chips."

Koko and Yum Yum turned up their well-bred noses at anything less than top-grade red sockeye salmon.

Returning home, Qwilleran drove around the Park Circle, where Main Street divided into one-way northbound and southbound lanes. On the perimeter of the traffic circle were two venerable churches, the stately courthouse, and a public library that resembled a Greek temple. Yet the most imposing structure was a fieldstone cube that sparkled in the sunlight. Originally the Klingenschoen mansion, it was now a small theater for plays and concerts, its gardens paved for parking. The four-stall carriage house was still there, and the apartment above was occupied by a woman who took special orders for meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, and other freezables for a bachelor's larder.

through an ornamental iron gateway into an ancient grove of evergreens so dense that all was dark and silent even in midday. Suddenly the drive opened into a clearing where a huge structure, more than a hundred years old, loomed like an enchanted castle. This was Qwilleran's barn, octagonal and four stories high.

walls so thick that small windows cut in the stone looked like crossbow ports in a medieval fort. Above the foundation the walls were shingled with weathered wood, and the octagonal roof was centered with a cupola. New windows cut in the walls had odd shapes dictated by the massive interior timbers bracing the structure.

drive-through barn, with doors large enough for a farm wagon and a team of horses. Now the two large openings were filled with glass panels and doors of human scale. A formal double door faced east, leading from the foyer; a single door on the west connected the barnyard with the kitchen.

an architect from Down Below, it featured a continuous ramp that spiraled up to the roof, connecting balconies on three levels. In the central open space, which soared a good forty feet, stood a huge white fireplace cube with white cylindrical stacks rising to the roof. The cube divided the main floor into lounge area, library, dining room, and foyer.

what the barn proved to be. The cube, a good eight feet high, was a safe perch just beyond human reach. The ramp was made-to-order for a fifty-yard dash; before each meal, eight thundering paws spiraled to the top and down again. Odd-shaped windows admitted triangles and rhomboids of sunlight that tantalized the cats by moving throughout the day.

checked the antique sea chest that stood at the back door and served for package deliveries. It was empty. He stood with his hand on the doorknob as he had a moment's qualms about his housemates. Were they all right? Had they wrecked the interior in a fit of catly exuberance? Would they meet him with a yowling welcome and waving tails?

with no visible signs of life.

concern--before starting a search. Circling the main floor counterclockwise, he stopped short when he reached the foyer. "You rascals!" he said with relief and rebuke. "You gave me a scare!"

gazing out the low-silled windows that flanked the front door. They were watching a congregation of seven black crows just outside the glass. They had never seen such birds at such close range. Briefly, they turned glassy eyes toward the person who had called their names, but they were still under the spell of these creatures who strutted in unison like a drill team--all seven to the north, then right-about-face and all seven to the south.

him to the kitchen, walking stiffly on long slender brown legs. When they reached the sunlight streaming through the west windows, their fawn fur glistened with iridescence, and their dark brown masks framed brilliant blue eyes.

forward, and whiplike brown tails waved in approval. Turkey! It was diced and served on separate plates.

logo of the Pickax Public Library and announced, "All aboard!" He lowered it to the floor and spread the handles. Koko was the first to jump in, settling down in the bottom and making himself as compact as possible. Yum Yum followed, landing on top of him. After some good-natured shifting and squirming, they settled in, and other items were tucked in around them. It was the easiest, quickest, safest way to transport two indoor cats, some reading matter, and a coffee thermos to the gazebo. It was only a few yards from the barn--a free-standing octagonal structure, screened on all eight sides.

to the scrubby barnyard.

him, questioning the proposal.

young man assured him. "The cats will flip their whiskers! What they like best is the movement of the birds--the flitting, swooping, hopping, and tail-twitching."

in selected trees and shrubs, some tall grasses, three bird-feeders, and two bird baths, one on a pedestal and the other at ground level. The birds came. The Siamese were ecstatic.

Duncan when they talked on the phone in the early evening. She thanked him for the groceries and complimented him on his choice of produce.

zucchini from a cucumber."

concerned about his casual eating habits.

stern. "Did you take your twenty-minute walk today, Polly?"

tonight, and I'll go early and use the treadmill in the gym."

he found both soothing and stimulating. He liked to keep her talking. "Any excitement at the library today?" he asked. "Any anti-computer demonstrations? Any riots?"

automated, thanks to a Klingenschoen grant, but many subscribers disliked the electronic catalogue. They preferred to make inquiries at the desk and be escorted to the card catalogue by a friendly clerk, who probably attended their church and might even be engaged to marry the son of someone they knew. That was Pickax style. The barcode scanner and the mouse were alien and suspect.

some hands-on workshops for subscribers, especially the older ones."

you can move it back upstairs. Someday the pencil-pushers will rise up and overthrow the computerheads, and sanity will return."

What did you do today when you weren't pushing a pencil?" She knew he drafted his twice-weekly column in longhand, while sitting in a lounge chair with his feet propped on an ottoman.

condition. If you're in the mood for scathing comedy, we might read a portion aloud this weekend. Where would you like to have dinner Saturday night?"

Changing her tone, she said, "I heard something bizarre today. You know the old Coggin farmhouse on Trevelyan Road? Someone painted the front of it with the word witch."

paper. How did you find out?" he asked, as if he didn't know. The library was--and always had been--the central intelligence agency of the community.

they were called in to obliterate the graffiti. The sheriff spotted it on his early morning patrol and alerted them. The paint was gone, I believe, before Mrs. Coggin knew it was there."

band of volunteers recruited through all the churches. Some had technical skills; others were simply young people with energy and strong backs. When household emergencies confronted the poor, the aged, or the infirm, this crisis squad was geared to respond on the double.

many signs of life around there, except for chickens and dogs."

suppose she's considered eccentric, but the nature of the vandalism was scurrilous!"

slowly, a gesture meaning his suspicions were being alerted. There might be more to the accusatory epithet than met the eye. His career in journalism had taught him one thing: there's always a story behind the story.

clubhouse, although I find walking on that treadmill a colossal bore."

else had ever been concerned about his diet; for that matter, had he ever been concerned about anyone's cardiovascular system?

fireplace cube and filled with pre-owned volumes from Eddington Smith's dusty bookshop. The sight of their mellow spines, like the sound of Polly's mellow voice, always pleased him. He agreed with Francis Bacon: Old friends to trust, old wood to burn, old authors to read.

nestle in snug spaces between Biography and Drama or between History and Fiction. Occasionally he raised his nose to sniff the fish glue used in old bindings. Sometimes he pushed a book off the shelf. It would land on the floor with a thlunk, and he would peer over the edge of the shelf to view his accomplishment. That was Qwilleran's cue to pick it up and read a few pages aloud, savoring familiar words and thoughts, while the Siamese enjoyed hearing a familiar voice. He had a full, rich voice for reading aloud.

significance, or so it seemed; it could be coincidence. Yet ... several hours before the vandals branded the old woman a witch, Koko had shoved The Crucible, an Arthur Miller play, off the shelf. Why would he choose that particular moment to draw attention to a work about the Salem witchcraft trials? Koko never did anything without a motive, and the incident gave Qwilleran an urge to visit Mrs. Coggin.

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Table of Contents

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Interviews & Essays

On Monday, February 2nd, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Lilian Jackson Braun to discuss THE CAT WHO SANG FOR THE BIRDS.


Moderator: Welcome to the barnesandnoble.com Auditorium. We are excited to welcome Lilian Jackson Braun, who is here to discuss her new book, THE CAT WHO SANG FOR THE BIRDS. Welcome, Lilian Jackson Braun. Thanks for joining us online this evening. How are you doing?

Lilian Jackson Braun: Well, I am fine.


Jennifer St. Clair from Bethel, Ohio: Hi, Mrs. Braun. I'm a big fan -- I've read all your books. I just wanted you to know that reading your books makes me look at my own cats a bit differently, and I want to thank you for that. I've never, ever gotten tired of reading your wonderful books over and over again. My question is probably one you've heard many times: Are Qwill and Polly ever going to tie the knot? Even if they don't, I still think your series is a wonder among commonness. I'll love every page until you decide to stop writing them.

Lilian Jackson Braun: I think that question about Qwill and Polly is the most popular. I don't know what is going to happen book to book. The characters walk around in my head, and I don't exactly know if they will ever get married. It does not look to me as though they will ever marry.


Marla from Canton, MI: I am always looking for new authors to read and have not yet read one of your books. Will I be able to pick up any of the books in the Cat Who series, or do I need to start from the beginning to gain a strong understanding of this mystery series? Thank you.

Lilian Jackson Braun: Well, the answer to that is yes and no. You can pick up any book -- they stand alone -- but to really enjoy the series you should start with THE CAT WHO COULD READ BACKWARDS. It proceeds from there with Qwill as he goes through various changes in his financial situation and his place of living. He changes and grows with each book. It is fascinating to see how somebody progresses. The correct order can be found at any library. It goes on for about 20 books.


Grover from Gainesville, FL: How much of your work is inspired by the actions and personalities of your own cats?

Lilian Jackson Braun: Bingo! Everything! I don't believe I could write the books without my cats. Every day they do something that gives me an idea. They are very creative, and what they do starts me off on a new idea, so I am very much influenced by my two cats, Koko III and Pittising, who have been named after Gilbert and Sullivan's MIKADO.


Mary Ploor from Lansing, MI: I am the Web curator for the Michigan Historical Center, Michigan Department of State. We have a page of "famous Michiganians" at our web site that includes Lilian Jackson Braun, of course. We try to include each Michiganian's place and year of birth. I've been unable to locate either for you (even in the extensive file of clippings in the Library of Michigan's vertical files). If you'd like to keep the date a mystery, I'll understand. But would you tell us where you were born? We are the state history center and museum. If you'd like to check us out, you can find us at this URL: www.sos.state.mi.us/history/history.html. Our "Famous Michiganians" page is at this URL: www.sos.state.mi.us/history/michinfo/people/people.html. Personally, my cat Sabrina and I have read all your books as soon as they're available and love them! When I talk to teachers about using Michigan history in their classrooms, I use your story within a story -- "The Big Burning of 1869" -- in THE CAT WHO WENT INTO THE CLOSET to encourage creativity in teaching history. Thank you. --Mary L. Ploor, Ph.D., Michigan Historical Museum Education Unit

Lilian Jackson Braun: I was born in Massachusetts and have lived in many states, and I am sorry, but that is all I care to say at this time.


Michael Scott from Dearborn, MI: I have always been a huge fan of your writing. What inspired you to become a writer? Or have you always dreamed of being a writer? Thank you -- I am looking forward to reading your latest book!

Lilian Jackson Braun: Well, I think it started because my mother was a storyteller. At the dinner table every night we had to relate what happened to us during the day. She encouraged us to be storytellers. Good writers read a great deal, but the important thing is to write, write, write.... Letter writing is a great way to practice, not gossipy notes but interesting letters with good description. When I was ready to write fiction, I was self-trained.


Teddy from Spring, TX: Do you base Moose County on any real-life county? Or is it more of a mix of many "anywhere USA" counties?

Lilian Jackson Braun: Well, the answer to that is the second: It is a composite of all the places I have lived, visited, heard about, etc. It is a composite, just as all my characters are composites of people I know or have observed.


Doug from Canton, OH: Why did you make Qwill rich? I always felt that giving him everything he needed in terms of material needs really detracted from identifying with him. As a rich guy, he is awfully smug a lot of time....

Lilian Jackson Braun: It just so happened that he inherited some money from Aunt Fanny -- what could he do about it? He didn't waste his money but spent it on a foundation, the nicest thing you can do when you are rich, giving it away....


Marlene from Ann Arbor, MI: Good evening, Ms. Braun. I am an aspiring author and would like to ask you a question. Do you believe it is more difficult to write a series of books, carrying the same characters, etc., or creating a new idea with new characters for every book? Thank you very much.

Lilian Jackson Braun: That probably depends on the individual writer, but for me it is easier and more interesting to keep the same locale and characters and develop them. However it is very important to develop them as their lives progress.


Evol from Dayton, Texas: How many Cat Who books are there?

Lilian Jackson Braun: Twenty.


Daniel DeBonis from Hobart, IN: Ms. Braun, I am 13 and have read your novels up to and including THE CAT WHO SNIFFED GLUE. I find that I read your novels not because of the mysteries themselves, but because of the characters and their stories. Tell me, how is it that you write about quirky people so well? And how do you find the inspiration?

Lilian Jackson Braun: I write about people because I like people and have always observed people. I observe them and listen to them and what they talk about and how they talk. This is stored in my head, and it comes out when I am ready to write. My stories are called character mysteries because the people are as important as the mysteries.


Susan Lewis from Alpena, Michigan: My 17-year-old daughter, my 12-year-old son, and I are all avid fans of your books. We each have our favorites. Is there one of your series that stands out as a favorite of yours?

Lilian Jackson Braun: Well, I think my favorite book is always the one I am writing at the moment. It is like the women who has a lot of children -- she loves them all.


Angel from Big Rapids, MI: I love your books! I finally had to start buying hardcover books because I've worn out my paperbacks from reading them so much! How do you keep all of your characters and their actions straight from book to book?

Lilian Jackson Braun: Not easy! I wish I had some easy catalogue, so I could look up a character to see how tall he or she is and what color eyes they have, but I don't.... I have a pretty good memory and I dredge up the necessary information when I am ready for it.


Jessica Dekalb from Lake Knoll, CA: I love your books and the cats, especially Yum Yum. However, my question is: Why did you decide to move Qwill to Pickax from Down Below? I couldn't imagine running out of interesting people and situations in a big-city environment, but you could keep some characters coming back throughout the books.

Lilian Jackson Braun: I wrote the first four books when I was living in a big city. However, when I moved to the country, I discovered small-town living and saw the delights of small towns. One writes about what one knows and is enthusiastic about, and right now I like small towns.


Evelyn Cullet from Chicago, Ill: I've read every one of your books, starting with the first, except for your last, which doesn't seem to be in the bookstores in my area as yet. But I'm looking forward to reading it soon. I'm interested to know how you came up with the character of Qwill. Is he based on someone you've known?

Lilian Jackson Braun: Interesting question. When I wrote my first book, I knew I wanted to write about a newspaperwomen, but I didn't want to write about a women, because people said that would be too autobiographical. He turned out to be a composite of five men I have known either socially or at work. He has changed over the years, and he seems very real to me.


Abby Mulligan from Seekonk, MA: Hi, I have read all of your books and I was wondering what the first book that Qwill meets Koko is called, and what is the title of the book where he first met Yum Yum?

Lilian Jackson Braun: THE CAT WHO COULD READ BACKWARDS is the book where Qwill meets Koko. THE CAT WHO ATE DANISH MODERN is where Qwill rescues Yum Yum, who had been abandoned.


Shanda King from Morgantown, WV: I love Koko and Yum Yum in your books? Do you think you will ever let Qwill get another cat?

Lilian Jackson Braun: Well, I don't think Koko will like it. He likes to be the king, and I think two cats is enough for anybody.


qwillgirl from aol: How do you come up with such wonderful characters and locations with such appropriate and wonderfully funny names?

Lilian Jackson Braun: I love naming them. I lie awake thinking of funny names. In Michigan there is a town called Badax, and I invented Pickax and the Tittabawassee River, and then I named Ittibittiwassee River. Naming the characters is great fun.


Melanie Thibodeaux from Belle Haven, Virginia: Although I have never read your books, I can honestly tell you that many people like them. I work in a local library and they are very much sought after. I am curious, however, why you use domestic animals as characters in your work. Thank you!

Lilian Jackson Braun: I have always written stories about cats, and in the series the cats are almost more intelligent than Qwill. I think it is funny that cats are more intelligent than humans. I am very tongue-in-cheek. I assume the cats are smarter than Qwill, and that is my little joke. Also, there are 56 million cats in the U.S., so somebody must like them.


Sheila from Downers Grove, Il: Have you ever written any other fiction or mystery books that have characters other than Qwill, Koko, and Yum Yum? Do you ever think about starting a different series?

Lilian Jackson Braun: No, I am very much content with the series I have. I have not written any other books. Wait, I wrote a book many years ago that didn't have cats, and it wasn't published. I think I am at my best when writing about cats.


Nicole Evans from Park Slope, Utah: Do believe that a person is either a cat person or a dog person? Are you a feline fan as well as a dog person?

Lilian Jackson Braun: Some people like all animals and some people prefer one or the other. I personally have more experience with cats, but I know other people's dogs and I am starting to incorporate dogs into minor roles in my stories because I know people love them.


Gregory from Gary, IN: Do you have a set writing formula that you apply when writing your Cat Who mysteries? Also, I am curious to find out a little bit more of how exactly you write these highly entertaining books. Do you have a structure or outline of the book previous to starting?

Lilian Jackson Braun: I know it would be smart to have a structure, but I don't. I just think about my book and I start writing my first page and the story develops. It is not the right way, but it is how I do it. I never learned how, so I just do it the way that comes naturally.


Kate from Glen Ellyn, IL: I am 14 and I love your books. I've read all but two, counting your new one. Anyway, do you have a favorite character? Why is he/she your favorite? (P.S. I love them all!)

Lilian Jackson Braun: Qwill is probably my number-one favorite, but I love Polly and Hixie Rice and his lifetime friend Arch and Amanda.... I love them all! I love them because I created them.


Cheryl Lowe from Maple Shade, NJ: There have been an awful lot of murders in Moose County. For such an out-of-the-way place, it seems the crime per capita is getting a bit high. Will Qwill be traveling to crime any more in the future?

Lilian Jackson Braun: Well, in the first place, it is hard to write a murder mystery without a murder. That is the only answer I know to that question.


Donna from Dundee, MI: Hello, Ms. Braun. Are there other authors that you have looked to for inspiration, style, ideas? Do you have a favorite author (other than your own works)? Thank you.

Lilian Jackson Braun: When I am writing, I am not reading, and when I am reading, I am not writing. I especially like 19th-century authors like Dickens, Brontë, etc. I have been influenced by all of them and I am grateful.


Natasha Lewis from Alpena, MI: Has there ever been any discussion about taking your stories to another media, i.e. film or television? I think your tales would stand up to the best "Murder She Wrote" episodes.

Lilian Jackson Braun: There have been many suggestions that we film the series, but I don't want any filming when I am writing it. But after I am writing, I might adapt to taking it to the screen. I am scared that I might be influenced by the screen, and I don't want that. So until I stop writing, there will be no films.


Cindy from Chicago: I love Qwill and the cats. Some of your villains are really quite evil. How do you come up with their cruelty and meanness?

Lilian Jackson Braun: You must have villains, and they very often are cruel and mean. What else can I say?


Christina from Zelienople, PA: Hello, Mrs. Braun. I'm 12. I really like your books and was wondering when you first began writing.

Lilian Jackson Braun: When I was two years old, I wasn't exactly writing, but I composed a poem: "Mother Goose is up in the sky, and these are her feathers coming down in my eye." Not bad for a two-year-old.


qwill007 from CT: I have just read a few of your books and really enjoy them. My question is this: Must they be read in the order you wrote them to understand the character development? Do you write a certain number each year? I love the name Qwill and lifted it for my AOL name online.

Lilian Jackson Braun: I write one per year.


Kara from Des Moines, Iowa: When you first started to write, did you write using a typewriter or did you write it out in longhand? What method do you use for writing now? Do you use a word processor or computer? Do you think one method for putting down your thoughts is more effective than others?

Lilian Jackson Braun: I like that question, because I love writing longhand. I don't have a word processor -- I am very old-fashioned. I use a felt pen and a yellow pad.


S. Nelson from Springfield, Illinois: What advice would you give to high-school-age authors who would like to become professional writers?

Lilian Jackson Braun: What I always say: Write, write, write. Describe people, write about personal experiences, but write something every day.


Sheila from Downers Grove, IL: Thank you for answering my previous question. I have just one more. Do you ever do book signings in the Chicago area? Not only am I a fan of your books but so is my aunt. She gave me my first Cat Who book. After I read it, I went to the library and bookstores and started reading them in order. Her birthday is in March, and I'm sure she'd love an autographed copy of your latest book.

Lilian Jackson Braun: Unfortunately I don't travel for signings. I just stay around home (North Carolina and South Carolina). Sorry about that.


Moderator: Thanks so much for joining us this evening, Ms. Braun. Any parting thoughts?

Lilian Jackson Braun: I have enjoyed this opportunity. You have asked many intelligent questions, and I have enjoyed answering them. Have a great night!


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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2014

    Great read!!!

    Koko never fails to save the day.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2013

    M. M

    Arcades creepin me out.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2013

    Mask

    Wolverine!))

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  • Posted October 10, 2011

    Light, enjoyable reading.

    If you like cats and mystery you will enjoy "The Cat Who" series. Lillian Jackson Braun does it again with another who done it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2003

    makes you love them cats more each time!

    What can i say......... I think YumYum is so adorable! I love the details when talking about the quint and charming homes and stores! i love Lilian Jackson Braun! Can someone please email me and let me know how she is doing and if there will be more The cat Who books! Thnak you !(on a personal note ,please donate to your local animal shelter ! God Bless! )

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2000

    Possibly Lillian Jackson Braun's Best Yet!

    Overall, a wonderful new adventure with the characters you've come to love, and the Cats that warm your heart.

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    Posted July 31, 2011

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