The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun
Rating: 5 stars
If you can’t tell from the name Cat Mysteries and Coffee or my intro post, I love cat mysteries. The all-time classic cat mystery series has to be The Cat Who. Started by Lilian Jackson Braun in 1966, she follows newspaper reporter Jim Qwilleran (yes, spelled with a W, to the bane of copy editors everywhere) as he solves the frequent murders he comes across with help from his intelligent Siamese cat Kao K’o-Kung, or Koko for short. Along the way they pick up their trusted sidekick Yum Yum, another dainty Siamese who keeps them on their toes. The trio move from a gritty urban city to Pickax, a small town 400 miles north of everywhere, throughout the course of the series.
The series starts with The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, which introduces us to James Qwilleran, or Qwill for short. After a period of alcoholism and a messy divorce, he is on the wagon and ready to get back to the hard hitting crime journalism that made him famous in his field. However, the best job he can get is as the art reporter for the Daily Fluxion. He is meant to be more of an everyman’s perspective on the art world, as opposed to the paper’s art critic George Bonifield Mountclemens III. Mountclemens’ scathing reviews (some are more like personal attacks) have made him the local art scene’s public enemy number one. Qwill also isn’t fond of the critic when he rents a room from him and is quickly treated as Mountclemens’ personal cat sitter and errand boy. He soon grows to respect his highly intelligent cat, Koko, though.
Just as Qwill is getting started on his new beat, a local gallery owner is murdered in his office. Despite not being a detective or even a crime reporter anymore, something about the murder piques his interest and starts Qwill down a rabbit hole of lost masterpieces, fake artworks, artistic jealousies, and romantic entanglements. I don’t want to say too much more and risk spoiling the mystery, but there are some great twists that will keep you guessing the murder’s identity until the end.
This is both the first book in this series and the first that I read, so it will always have a special place in my heart and bookshelf. I highly recommend this to any mystery or cat lover, or anyone who’s not a mystery a cat lover (there’s always time to start).