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RIP Lilian Jackson Braun — Why Now?
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RIP Lilian Jackson Braun

Lilian Jackson Braun, the author of the The Cat Who … mystery novels died on Saturday at age 97.

While the later books were not as involved as her earlier work, and tended to be formulaic, they were a comfortable light read. After a while you wondered by anyone would hang around the main characters, as murder always struck, a bit like the Jessica Fletcher character in the old television series, Murder She Wrote.

I freely admit to owning the entire series, as they became a habit.


1 Badtux { 06.08.11 at 12:47 am }

Well, that solves the mystery of what happened to her over the past four years… 98? That was quite a run. I’ll be lucky to make it to 68, given all the shit I was into when I was young, half of which exposed me to enough carcinogens that it’s a miracle I haven’t grown a third head yet…

I read a few of her books, but really couldn’t get into them. Her cats didn’t really behave much like any of the mangy former ferals that I’ve ever owned (or been owned by?), whose interest in solving murders would be along the lines of, “eh, dead body, whatevah, feed me, you stupid penguin”. Still, she almost single-handedly re-introduced the “cozy” back into the American mystery genre, and it certainly seems to be a popular genre with the cat lady population (I would never read such a thing, of course. Never. Not ever. 😉 ).

As for Jessica Fletcher Syndrome… uhm, yeah. Unless you’re a big city homicide detective, if you leave such a string of dead bodies behind you, you’re most likely a serial killer, not a billionaire philanthropist. Just sayin’ :).

– Badtux the Mystery-readin’ Penguin

2 Steve Bates { 06.08.11 at 7:29 am }

Sigh. Thanks for the notice; I hadn’t heard. I, too, confess to owning all of her works, and yes, I bought the last few, new, knowing they would be exactly like their predecessors… but I felt I owed it to her for all the pleasure I derived from her earlier books. Most young authors who write “cat mysteries” acknowledge her as founder of the genre. R.I.P. Ms. Jackson Braun; you are missed.

3 Steve Bates { 06.08.11 at 7:41 am }

Afterthought: apparently Ms. Jackson Braun is The Cat Who Died Twice… this thread on a cozy-mystery group thread from 2009 contains one ref to a much earlier obit, and some possibilities about what happened to the series.

4 Kryten42 { 06.08.11 at 8:13 am }

Hmmm! Well… I am very sad to say that I don’t recognize her name, or books! 🙁 And THAT is very unusual for me! I read TS Elliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” as a very young fellow, because it was about cat’s! 😀 (and I was one of the few here who got the stage play, Cat’s, because of it. Maybe her books weren’t well known here… *sigh* Actually, the name does kinda ring a bell, but that could be for any number of reasons, and my memory has been less than perfect the past few years.

It’s always sad when one of the *old school* author’s passes, they just aren’t that replaceable these days, sadly. I’m glad she had a good run and lived to a pretty ripe old age. I truly hope she enjoyed it! 😀

Rest in Peace now, Lilian Jackson Braun. I am sure you will be missed.

5 Bryan { 06.08.11 at 9:39 am }

If I was a reporter on the Detroit Free Press for years, I could see why “cozy” would be appealing, as would the rural life on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She would have certainly had access to the descriptions of a lot of murder cases, most of them not nearly as intricate as the ones in the books.

Siamese are psychos, even among cats, so she describes some well-known behaviors, although she gives them significance in her writing. They were bred as temple guards, so they attack when most cats would avoid the problem, and they will act in groups, when most cats are individuals, more than happy to be the audience rather than the participants.

6 JuanitaM { 06.09.11 at 8:55 am }

Oh no! She will be missed. I’ve read all her books as well. Although, as you’ve said the later books didn’t have the edge or depth of her first ones, I admit to enjoying a visit with, by then, old friends. When I was living in Lexington a few years ago, I would walk the Woods Park trail daily listening to Ms. Lilian’s stories. Perfect atmosphere for a lazy summer day.

I hadn’t heard this news anywhere else. Too busy worrying about crotches and other similar important things, most likely.

7 Bryan { 06.09.11 at 2:53 pm }

It was amazing that murder was so peaceful. But then you knew in the end that the guilty would be punished.

8 Badtux { 06.09.11 at 7:30 pm }

She would have certainly had access to the descriptions of a lot of murder cases, most of them not nearly as intricate as the ones in the books.

Yes, the typical murder case looks more like two guys getting into an argument and one shooting the other, usually with a dozen or more witnesses looking on, and no question about whodunnit (well, at least if any of the witnesses will talk). Or a couple of drunks getting into at a bar, and one of them pulling a knife and hacking the other to death. Or around these parts, the murder-suicide seems to be a popular option. The murder rate here in peaceful Santa Clara went up 700% a couple of years back when one dude offed most of his family, then himself. No question about who did it, no investigating required, just interview the survivors and witnesses.

Regarding the mystery series, it seems necessary in order to get sufficient audience to make a living at writing (a typical mystery first novel sells around 2500 copies, a mid-list writer might sell around 20,000 copies, Ms. Braun probably sold around 100,000 copies of each book which believe it or not is all it takes to be a “best-seller” nowadays, and the author gets about $1 per sale). Folks who write stand-alone mysteries tend to have trouble getting an audience. But if you’re not into writing police procedurals with the protagonist being a big-city special investigator for the police department, the notion of any protagonist encountering more than one dead body in his or her lifetime is pretty slim unless your protagonist is a serial killer. At which point you have the slight problem of being in a different genre (the thriller genre) rather than the “mystery” niche, where folks expect certain tropes to be true, one of which is that the protagonist is not the perp, but, rather, the one who brings justice to the perp …

So anyhow, police procedurals are fine and all, but Jessica Fletcher? Mass murderer. Had to be. Just sayin’ ;).

– Badtux the Snarky Writer Penguin

9 hipparchia { 06.09.11 at 7:54 pm }

when i took to collecting cats a few years ago, i eased up on the book collecting, so i’m missing one or two from the series.

yes, i was a serious jessica fletcher groupie too, in case anybody was wondering. 😀

10 Bryan { 06.09.11 at 8:26 pm }

The stats say the murder is the easiest to solve case in the law, with serial killers being the main fly in the ointment of perfection. Round up the family and friends, if they weren’t still there standing over the body when you arrived, and decide which of them did it. Most of your time is spent waiting from results from the lab. But people have always been fond of them.

Based on the literature, little old ladies, like Ms Fletcher and Miss Marple are obviously more involved than they let on. I think it’s the lack of a cat that makes them suspicious. They should at least own a budgie.

Yes, Badtux, a series of some type is essential to making a living with writing, because you have to develop a following who will spread your greatness by word of mouth.

The main problem with police procedurals is that if they were really accurate people would fall asleep in chapter two. No one is really prepared the boredom inherent in police work. Filling in forms, which is a major police activity, is not the stuff of stunning visuals. I know a number of officers who retired without ever taking there weapon from its holster. [In one case, when the guy retired they had to cut the holster off the weapon to unload it, because it was rusted in place.] There are a lot more people with a day’s worth of experience in 20 years, than 20 years’ worth of experience in a day, the cops who appear in books.

[Note: updated and corrected after an emergency DVD repair at my Mother’s eliminated any read-through and editing of the original.]

11 Badtux { 06.09.11 at 9:56 pm }

I once wrote a dog into one of my stories and promptly unwrote it out of the story. Bloody thing was always needing to be taken out on a walk, and was always in the way when I wanted to move my protagonist around the chessboard because, well, who’s taking care of the dog? I mean, so my protagonist is going to a bar, okay, where’s the dog? If the dog’s at home, why have the bloody dog in the first place, it’s just cluttering up my story!

Thus why Jessica Fletcher doesn’t have a cat or dog, and neither did Miss Marple. It would have cramped their travel style too much, especially for Jessica Fletcher, who had more nieces than an army division has soldiers each and every one of whom needed visiting, usually accompanied by a dead body (I mean, the Fletcher family apparently attracts murderers the way a bug zapper light attracts bugs, you can’t have a Fletcher around without someone stumblin’ over a dead body!). How’s Jessica Fletcher gonna travel with a cat, and what’s the cat gonna be doing while she’s solving the mystery? So why clutter the story with a cat, then?!

Lillian Jackson Braun found the solution to that, which was to make the cat the center of the story. But so far only one of my stories has managed to work a dog into it in a way that not only works but is integral to the story, and that one was sorta a salute to Harlan Ellison’s classic “A Boy and His Dog” (another classic pet story, heh!). As for cats… pffft. Forget it. Cats are more interested in doing their own thing. Thus my problem with the “Cat Who” books, of which, remember, I did read a round half dozen or so over the years, but kept breaking out in guffaws over the notion of cats solving murders every time I thought about them and just quit reading them after a while.

– Badtux the Mechanics Penguin

12 Badtux { 06.09.11 at 10:52 pm }

Regarding police procedurals, yes, that’s why I said “special investigator for a big city police department”. If the average cop encounters a dead body it’s either a traffic accident or someone died of natural causes and the neighbors called the cops when the smell started wafting large. Not too exciting a police procedural can be written about either of those ;).

– Badtux the Snarky Penguin

13 Kryten42 { 06.10.11 at 5:46 am }

Did you know there is a game where you (knda) get to play Jessica Fletcher called (what else):

Murder, She Wrote

There are also games bases on Agatha Christie’s books (a half dozen or so), including based upon the character Hercule Poirot (2 or 3). 😉 Just sayin… 😉 😆

Yes, I know… I have no life! 😛 😈

(Actually, I only know about them because my housemate loves these kind of games! She must have a hundred of them! I find them too easy generally, I usually finish them in a day. Some of them are enjoyable actually. I liked one game based upon the book “The Great Gatsby”. It was quite well narrated, and some of the puzzles were somewhat challenging.) 😉 🙂

14 Bryan { 06.10.11 at 2:42 pm }

Badtux, most of the “cat solved the murder” are rationalizations after the fact, quite similar to the way some people believe ‘psychics’ solve crime. I don’t consider the fact that a cat likes a book to be much of clue, especially if the book is a Shakespearean play. I would wonder if you had been eating a tuna sandwich the last time you read the book, or if there were traces of catnip in your bookmark?

The ‘psychic’ said there was a ‘body of water’ involved, and there is a puddle at the end of the driveway when it rains – how wonderful!

Jack Webb produced a series of ‘police procedurals’ for television [Dragnet, Adam-12], and they were boring, because he insisted that all of the rules and regulations be observed, as if that happened in the real world. The only time I followed all of the rules and regulations was when I was POed at a new order, and was protesting it. You can’t get anything done.

A patrol officer is sent and discovers a body, all s/he does is call a supervisor, and, if it is really gruesome or old, vomits [hopefully, outside so no evidence is contaminated], and waits for someone else to take over. It makes for a paragraph, not a book.

Come on, there are cat sitters and animal boarding facilities if they were really kindly old ladies.

Kryten, given the prominence of Grand Theft Auto why would games about homicidal little old ladies be surprising. I know I would never have accepted an invite to someone’s country estate when I lived in the UK. Someone was always getting murdered to provide a plot for a book.

15 Badtux { 06.10.11 at 5:29 pm }

Her official obituary at the funeral home. Has a few details that AP didn’t include.

Yeah, those country estates in the UK were some dangerous places if Miss Marple and friends were correct about things. With all the dead bodies lying around, it becomes clear how Brits developed that whole stiff upper lip thing. It was either that, or run screaming and hide under the bed in fear that you’re next ;).

– Badtux the Snarky Penguin

16 Bryan { 06.10.11 at 11:33 pm }

She confirms our hypothesis – first she decides on the behavior, then she murders someone in a manner consistent with that behavior. Sounds like she sat around watching her cat, and then based the books and the latest weird thing her cat was doing. That’s a lot easier than attempting to figure out what a cat would do.

17 Badtux { 06.11.11 at 12:05 am }

And she said,

“Of course, when you are writing about a cat solving mysteries you can’t be entirely serious.”

And she wasn’t. They were nice fluffy books. My inability to suspend disbelief was my problem, not a problem with the books, which were a perfectly good example of the kitty cat cozy.

Regarding predicting cat behavior, I understand that there are better odds of winning the lottery than doing that. Unless said prediction includes, “the cat will come whining to me demanding to be fed at some point in the next 24 hours”, which I can predict with 100% accuracy :).

– Badtux the Fictional Penguin

18 Bryan { 06.11.11 at 12:18 am }

After working in “government service”, Federal and state, I am quite accustomed to suspending disbelief. It is a job requirement for briefing generals or politicians.