Twenty-five years ago, Jim Qwilleran walked into my life...huffing into his large moustache, spelling his name oddly, drinking black coffee at the Press Club bar. He was tall but seemed world-weary. His entire earthly possessions fit into two suitcases. He was a down-and-out crime reporter willing to cover any minor beat if it could get him back into newspapering.
Then, almost overnight, peculiar circumstances made him the richest man in northeast central United States.
All that money made Qwilleran nervous, until he remembered the old saying: "Money is like muck; it doesn't do any good unless you spread it around." He established a foundation to spread it around.
Now Qwilleran lives in a small town, 400 miles north of everywhere, and writes for a small newspaper. He stands tall and straight. He dates a librarian. His roommates are two abandoned cats that he adopted along the way, one of them quite remarkable.
Despite his fame and fortune, Qwilleran's popularity really stems from his sense of humor, individuality, and willingness to listen. He has a writer's talent for sympathetic listening-half compassion, half curiosity-and it draws confidences from men and women, old and young.
Qwilleran has a secret of his own that he shares with no oneor hardly anyone. His male cat, Koko, has an uncanny intuition that can tell right from wrong and frequently sniffs out the evil-doer. Together, he and Qwilleran have solved several cases. The Cat Who Brought Down the House is the twenty-fifth installment of the Qwilleran saga. Shall we try for twenty-six?
Author Biography: Lilian Jackson Braun is the author of twenty-five Cat Who . . . novels and two short-story collections.
About the Author
Date of Birth:1916
Date of Death:June 4, 2011
Place of Birth:Massachusetts
Place of Death:South Carolina
Education:Graduated from high school at age 16
Read an Excerpt
Who was Thelma Thackeray?
It was April first, and it sounded like an April Fool's joke.
Had anyone by that name ever lived in Moose County, 400 miles north of everywhere?
Yet, there it was, in black and white-in the newsbite column of the Moose County Something:
return of the native
Thelma Thackeray, 82, a native of Moose County, has retired after a 55-year career in Hollywood, CA, and is returning to her native soil. "I'm coming home to die," she said cheerfully, "but not right away. First I want to have some fun."
It was followed by less startling items: The sheriff had purchased a stop-stick to aid deputies in high-speed car chases....The Downtown Beautiful committee had decided on hot-pink petunias for the flower boxes on Main Street....The sow that escaped from a truck on Sandpit Road had been discovered in the basement of the Black Creek Elementary School.
Immediately the lead item was being discussed all over town, via the grapevine. In coffeehouses, on street corners, and over backyard fences the news was spread: "A Hollywood star is coming to live in Pickax!"
Jim Qwilleran, columnist for the newspaper, was working at home when his phone started ringing. "Who was Thelma Thackeray?... Was she really a movie star?... Did the press know more than they were telling?"
"It sounds like a hoax," he told them. He remembered the April Fool's prank that his fellow staffers had played on the Lockmaster Ledger a year ago. They phoned a tip that a Triple Crown winner was being retired to a stud farm in Lockmaster under terms of absolute secrecy. Reporters at the Ledger had spent a week trying to confirm it.
Nevertheless, Qwilleran's curiosity was aroused. He phoned Junior Goodwinter, the young managing editor, and said sternly, "What was the source of the Thelma Thackeray newsbite?"
"She phoned our night desk herself-from California. Why do you ask? Do you have a problem with that?"
"I certainly do! The name sounds phony! And her remark about dying and having fun is too glib for a person of her apparent age."
"So what are you telling me, Qwill?"
"I'm telling you it's a practical joke played by those guys in Lockmaster in retaliation for the horse hoax. Have you been getting any reader reaction?"
"Sure have! Our phones have been ringing off the hook! And-hey, Qwill! Maybe there really is a Thelma Thackeray!"
"Want to bet?" Qwilleran grumbled as he hung up.
Qwilleran had a sudden urge for a piece of Lois Inchpot's apple pie, and he walked to the shabby downtown eatery where one could always find comfort food at comfortable prices-and the latest gossip. Lois herself was a buxom, bossy, hardworking woman who had the undying loyalty of her customers. They took up a collection when she needed a new coffeemaker and volunteered their services when the lunchroom walls needed painting.
When Qwilleran arrived, the place was empty, chairs were upended on tables, and Lois was sweeping up before dinner. "Too early for dinner! Too late for coffee!" she bellowed.
"Where's your busboy, Lois?"
Her son, Lenny, usually helped her prepare for dinner.
"Job hunting! He finished two years at MCCC, and he'd really like to go to one of them universities Down Below, but they're too expensive. So he's job hunting."
Qwilleran said, "Tell Lenny to apply to the K Fund for a scholarship. I'll vouch for him." The young man had faced personal tragedy, a frame-up, and betrayal of trust-with pluck and perseverance.
With a sudden change of heart she said, "What kind of pie do you want?"
"Apple," he said, "and give me that broom and I'll finish sweeping while you brew the coffee."
The middle-aged man pushing the broom and righting the chairs would have been recognized anywhere in three counties as James Mackintosh Qwilleran. He had a pepper-and-salt moustache of magnificent proportions, and his photo appeared at the head of the "Qwill Pen" column every Tuesday and Friday. He had been a highly regarded journalist in major cities around the country; then he inherited the vast Klingenschoen fortune based in Moose County and he relocated in the north country. Furthermore, for reasons of his own, he had turned the inheritance over to a philanthropic institution. The Klingenschoen Foundation, popularly called the K Fund, was masterminded by experts in Chicago, where Qwilleran was recognized as the richest man in the northeast central United States. Around Pickax he was Mr. Q.
Eventually Lois returned from the kitchen, carrying two orders of apple pie and a coffee server; forks, napkins, and mugs were in her apron pockets. They sat in a booth near the kitchen pass-through, so she could shout reminders to the woman who cooked dinner. Lois herself would wait on tables, take the money, and serve as moderator of the free-for-all talk show carried on among the tables.
"Well, Mr. Q," she began, "you missed a good chinfest this afternoon. Everybody's excited about the movie star comin' to town. Do you think she'll come in here to eat?"
Still suspecting a Lockmaster trick, he replied evasively, "Just because she's lived in Hollywood for fifty years, it doesn't make her a movie star. She could be a bookkeeper or policewoman or bank president."
Whatever she is, he thought, she must be loaded-to buy a house on Pleasant Street.
Lois shouted at the pass-through, "Effie! Don't forget to thaw the cranberry sauce!... Funny thing, though, Mr. Q-nobody remembers a Thackeray family in these parts."
Facetiously he said, "It would be interesting to know if she's related to William Makepeace Thackeray."
"Don't know anybody of that name. Who is he?"
"A writer, but he hasn't done anything recently."
She yelled, "And, Effie! Throw some garlic powder in the mashed potatoes!"
Qwilleran said, "Sounds delicious. I'd like to take a turkey dinner home in a box."
Lois yelled, "Effie! Fix a box for Mr. Q-and put in some dark meat for his kitties."
"By the way," he said, "what's all the action in the next block? All those trucks coming and going."
"They're movin' out!" she said. "Good riddance! It don't make sense to have a place like that downtown."
He waited for his "box" and walked to the corner of Church and Pine streets, where large cartons were being loaded into trucks and carted away. According to the logos on the cartons they were refrigerators, washers and dryers, kitchen ranges, and television sets.
He said to the man directing the loading, "Either you're moving out, or you've sold a lot of appliances this week."
"We got a new building on Sandpit Road-steel barn with real loading dock. Plenty of room for trucks."
The edifice they were vacating was a huge stone hulk, wedged between storefronts of more recent vintage. That meant it was more than a century old, dating back to the days when the county's quarries were going full blast and Pickax was being built as the City of Stone. It was the first time he had scrutinized it. There were no windows in the side walls, and the front entrance had been boarded up. Qwilleran crossed the street and appreciated the design for the first time: Four columns were part of the architecture, topped by a pediment and the simple words inscribed in the stone: opera house.
Then he realized that the smaller buildings on either side had been vacated also. Something was happening in downtown Pickax!
Qwilleran went home to his converted apple barn, which was as old as the opera house. It occupied a wooded area on the outskirts of town-octagonal, forty feet high, with fieldstone foundation and weathered wood shingles for siding. As he drove into the barnyard two alert cats were watching excitedly in the kitchen window. They were sleek Siamese with pale fawn bodies and seal-brown masks and ears, long slender legs, and whiplike tails. And they had startlingly blue eyes.
Yum Yum was a flirtatious little female who purred, rubbed ankles, and gazed at Qwilleran beseechingly with violet-tinged eyes. She knew how to get what she wanted; she was all cat...Koko was a cat-and-a-half. Besides being long, lithe, and muscular, he had the bluest of blue eyes, brimming with intelligence and something beyond that-an uncanny intuition. There were times when the cat knew the answers before Qwilleran had even thought of the questions. Kao K'o Kung was his real name.
When Qwilleran walked into the barn, Yum Yum was excited about the turkey, but Koko was excited about the answering machine; there was a message waiting.
A woman's voice said, "Qwill, I'm leaving the library early and going to the dinner meeting of the bird club. It's all about chickadees tonight. I'll call you when I get home and we can talk about Thelma Thackeray. A bientôt."
She left no name, and none was needed. Polly Duncan was the chief woman in his life. She was his own age and shared his interest in literature, being director of the Pickax public library. It was her musical voice that had first attracted him. Even now, when she talked, he felt a frisson of pleasure that almost overshadowed what she was saying.
Qwilleran thanked Koko for drawing his attention to the message and asked Yum Yum if she had found any treasures in the wastebasket. Talking to cats, he believed, raised their consciousness.
The dark meat of turkey was minced and arranged on two plates under the kitchen table, where they gobbled it up with rapture. Afterward it took them a long time to wash up. The tastier the treat, the longer the ablutions, Qwilleran had observed.
Then he announced loudly, "Gazebo Express now leaving for all points east!" Yum Yum and Koko jumped into a canvas tote bag that had been purchased from the Pickax public library. It was the right size for ten books or two cats who are good friends.
The octagonal gazebo stood in the bird garden, screened on all eight sides. In the evening there were birds and small four-legged creatures to amuse the Siamese, and when darkness fell there were night noises and night smells. Qwilleran stayed with them for a while, then went indoors to do some more work on the "Qwill Pen" column.
From time to time he received phone calls from friends who wanted to talk about the Hollywood celebrity: from Wetherby Goode, the WPKX meteorologist; from Celia Robinson O'Dell, his favorite caterer; from Susan Exbridge, antique dealer; the Lanspeaks, owners of the department store.
At one point he was interrupted by a phone call from Lisa Compton, wife of the school superintendent.
"Lyle and I were wondering if you know what's going into the old opera house?"
"No, I know only what's coming out. Maybe they're going to bring Mark Twain back. He hasn't been here since 1895."
"I know," Lisa said. "And my grandmother was still raving about him sixty years later. She loved his moustache-just like yours, Qwill. His wit and humor brought down the house! Her favorite was the one about cross-breeding man with the cat: It would improve the man but be deleterious to the cat."
"She told me that carriages used to draw up to the entrance of the hall, and women in furs and jewels would step out, assisted by men in opera cloaks and tall hats. Can you imagine that-in Pickax, Qwill?"
"That was over a hundred years ago," Qwilleran said. "Things change."
"So true! Before World War One the economy had collapsed. Pickax was almost a ghost town, and the opera hall was boarded up. In the Twenties it was a movie theatre for a few years. During World War Two the government took it over-all very hush-hush and heavily guarded. They removed the rows of seats and leveled the raked floor, my family told me."
Qwilleran said, "The old building has had a checkered career."
"Yes, since then it's been a roller rink, a dance hall, a health club, and finally a storage warehouse. Who knows what's next?"
"If you get any clues, let me know," he said.
"I'll do that.... How are the kitties, Qwill?"
"Fine. How's Lyle?"
"Grouchy. He's crossing swords with the school board again."
from The Cat Who Brought Down the House by Lilian Jackson Braun, Copyright © 2003 Lilian Jackson Braun, published by The Putnam Publishing Group, a member of the Penguin Group (USA), Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Table of Contents
Everyone knows time flies when you're having fun. Still, it's hard to believe that with The Cat Who Brought Down the House it's been 25 books since Lilian Jackson Braun introduced readers to her delightful mysteries featuring wealthy journalist James Qwilleran and his Siamese cats, Koko and Yum Yum. To mark this publishing landmark, Ransom Notes asked the inventive author about the origins of the long-lasting series…and about her future plans for Qwill and cohorts. Here's what she had to say:
"Is there really a city called Pickax? Exactly where is Moose County?" These are the questions most frequently asked about The Cat Who… series.
In response, I can only quote Shakespeare: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." For purely selfish reasons I chose to invent my own corner of the world. After writing for a newspaper for 30 years, where one is expected to be factual and accurate, I chose not to be confined to a real piece of real estate in my fiction. So, there really is a Jim Qwilleran, if you think so. And there really is a cat who is smarter than people, as anyone who lives with Siamese will agree.
When I wrote my first book, I chose to write about cats because, like journalists, they were a subject I understood. I have served an estimated 9,600 meals to a couple of gourmet felines…and enjoyed every minute of it. And I've always made sure that Koko never does anything that a cat wouldn't do. If he solves crimes, it is because he and Qwilleran are sympatico…and the fact that Qwilleran has a large mustache and Koko has 60 whiskers instead of the more usual 48 is purely coincidental.
People also often ask about Qwill and Koko's shared interest in books. In response I'll point out that Qwilleran is a wordsmith by trade and has a journalist's curiosity about many subjects…while Koko has a cat's fondness for sitting in high places, and knocking things down from such heights is a traditional feline hobby. Of course, when Koko knocks a book off the shelf, Qwilleran's curiosity is piqued, and he often reads the book aloud to his cats. I must add that I've been delighted to hear from so many readers that they are following Qwill's example.
Readers sometimes remark on the fact that the characters in my books don't age with the years. Remembering that Sherlock Holmes never aged a day in 40 years, I have chosen to follow in that grand tradition.
At the same time, bringing in a dramatically different new character, like Thelma Thackeray in The Cat Who Brought Down the House, is like a shot in the arm to a hardworking author of 25 connected books. That's why Thelma has Amazon parrots instead of cats and dogs, and why she collects designer hats. In her 80s, Thelma announces that she's returning from Hollywood to her native soil to die…though not right away. She's quick to say, "First I want to have some fun!" And I hope readers have as much fun with her as I did.
I also enjoyed describing Moose County's Kit Kat organization for saving unwanted kittens. I'm glad to say that such organizations thrive in various parts of the country, not only finding homes for kittens but bringing joy to people in many other ways.
Qwilleran country, 400 miles north of everywhere, is a lively place to live, if only in the imagination. And there are more books in the works about Koko, Yum Yum, and that man with the large mustache. As a matter of fact, Qwill is working on a new book, a memoir, to be titled "The Private Lives of Koko and Yum Yum." Lilian Jackson Braun
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Purred nuzzling her, "lilywolf its fine!"
Interesting mystery with a surprise ending.
Ms. Braun was a terrific author who included fun and funny subtext as well as suspense in her mysteries
Love all her books!
If you want to get hooked on a continuing story line, you will love this series. It is light mystery, small town reading and for anyone with cats, it has double meaning for you. Lilian Jackson Braun and Agatha Christie both wrote books about small town people. I will truly miss Qwill, Koko, Yum Yum and Lilian Jackson Braun.
This was the first Braun book I read and it was wonderful! I was so excited about her writing style I couldn't put the put down. I then did a search for how many other books she had written and to my surprise there were over 30 titles! I bought every single one...I am a fan of all the characters. Koko and Yum yum are my favorite, as I am a cat lover as well! The connection Quill develops with the cats makes me think of my three kitties. His journey has to be read from beginning to end, so dive in and read about how Quill got started and you won't regret it.
I love mysteries. I picked this one up at the bookstore and saw how many there were in this series and thought "This one ought to be great!" I was wrong. I have never read a book that rambled so badly. The mystery seems to be a much hidden sideline. Quill's moustache would twitch, the cat would howl, but the connecting points in this story just didn't flow for me. I stuck it out until I was 3/4 through the story and was just so bored I just flipped pages to the end. I don't think I missed out on anything important. This was without a question the most boring book I have ever read.
Another excellent cat mystery by Lillian Jackson Braun. Become acquainted or re-acquainted with the 2 Siamese cats Koko and Yum Yum and their owner Jim Qwilleran. There is trouble brewing 400 miles North of everywhere and Koko can sense it and tries to alert his owner to what is brewing. After your hard day at work in the office or at home sit back, relax and pick up "The Cat Who Brought Down the House" for a very enjoyable read.
The Cat Who Brought Down The House #25 by Lilian Jackson Braun It had been a few years since reading a Cat Who mystery and it felt like I'd never left Moose County, 400 miles from everywhere. James Mackontosh Qwilleran, a former crime reporter from Down Below, with his huge mustache, now does the weekly Qwill Pen column for the Moose County newspaper. Qwill and Koko, his very intelligent Siamese cat, solve the mystery surrounding Thelma Thackerey's brothers untimely death. Does the Kit Kat Revue in the newly remodeled Pickax Opera House, which has been turned into a new Film Club, cause a problem for Koko and Yum Yum or is Qwill got the case solved? With the Pickax regulars going from eachof the restaurants in town, we get a wide erray of unique cuisine to whet our appetites, esp with the re-opening of The Grist Mill with Qwill's ever-popular Qwill Cocktail. To find out more about this fun and quirky series, just walk or run to your nearest library and read them. But, do me a favor and start with #1!!!!!
Once again, this book was delivered in the mail very quickly. And it looks exactly like a brand new book! I will use this site again and again!
This was probably one of her last newest books that I enjoyed. After this one, it seems that the quality of writing has gone downhill. This one was just a starting of the downclimb of her quality of books and I don't think I will buy any more.
I have read all of the other Cat Who books and LOVED most of them. I am finding that her last few are not nearly as good as the earlier ones though. They are getting shorter and do not involve enough of the locals. Also, she does not have the cats playing nearly big enough parts. I realize that Lilian is gettin up in years, and I would really miss her books if she were to quit writing, but if she can't keep up the pace of the earlier ones, its time to call it quits. Out of a 250 page book, only about 50 pages play in the mystery. I only wish there was a loyal and devoted fan that she could pass the reins on to to continue the series.
I've read every Cat Who... book (except the newest hardcover) and have thoroughly enjoyed each, except for the last 2: ...Went Up The Creek, and ...Brought Down the House. HEY PUBLISHER: throw out the ghostwriter!!! Either get Lilian back to work, or be honest and stop publishing these hack stories under her name/series. This book was even worse than the previous one. The narrative was jerky, disjointed and BORING. The dialogue was stilted, wooden, lifeless and often pointless. The characterizations/relationships of the well-established 'people' in the series were vague and shallow, and so off-target that only the names were familiar. And apparently the ghostwriter is completely incapable of presenting the cats as viable characters in the story, to any degree whatsoever. After years of reading pleasure, I'll miss the Cat Who... books, but I won't waste my money again!
I am waiting until this title is available in paperback before I buy it. The cat Who... books are not available to buy in UK so on a recent trip to NC, with a kitten! - I bought all 24 paperback Cat Who... titles!! I just want to curl up in a cozy place and read this great book at home -borrowed the hb version whilst on holiday in NC
I have always enjoyed the cat who books until this one. Qwilleran spent too much time going around getting stories for his book. The parts of the books about the cats were okay but most of the rest of it was just boring. The mystery was too predictable. there was a little surprise at the end if you got that far but it was not enough to make up for the rest of the book. I hope the next cat who book will be as good as they usually are. I would usually recomend any of the other cat who books to any mystery lover especially cat lovers except this one.
I miss the friends I have made reading the Cat Who books over the years. What a shame that the last two books have only allowed these wonderful folks to pop in from time to time for brief cameo appearances. Even the cats were in the background this time. I am puzzled why so many odd, shallow characters are being brought into the stories when there is no 'history' to them. Thelma and Dickie Bird were just stupid--I'm still scratching my head over them. Whoever is assisting in the writing of these books needs to sit down and really study the magic that Ms. Braun has created over the years. So many fun things have been left out! It's as if the ghost writer has a list of things to mention, but he doesn't know how they've been woven into the storyline over the years. I even came upon Mr. Q. being referred to as 'Quill.' Everyone knows about the QW in Qwilleran! It was sheer drudgery finishing this book as well as last one when, in the past, I have devoured them in one day. I just don't think I will bother the next time.
In Moose County, the residents of the small town of Pickax like to think of themselves as four hundred miles north of everywhere. The town is made up of colorful characters including Jim Qwilleran, the richest man in the northeast central United States. Jim has donated much of his money to a foundation so that it could be put it to good use. He also writes a humor column twice a week for the Moose County Something and contentedly lives with his two Siamese cats Koko and Yum-Yum. When Thelma Thackery returns home after a fifty-five year absence, Qwill welcomes her back. Koko, who spot villains and knows when a death occurs, takes an instant dislike to Thelma¿s nephew Dick. Thelma opens a cabaret movie theater starring old movies and she puts Dick in charge, hoping he¿ll finally make something of himself. When she catches him in wrong doing, she knows he¿ll never account for anything so she takes the law into her own hands. This is the twenty-fifth life in the Cat Who series and it is every bit as good as the other twenty-four lives. Quill still collects anecdotes for the book he is writing SHORT & TALL TALES, which by the way is available now at the local bookstores in all the towns four hundred miles south and further south of Moose County. His loving relationship with his Siamese cats is only one of the reasons that explain why readers truly love him. Lilian Jackson Braun¿s fan base rightfully grows with every book she writes. Harriet Klausner