Friday, January 12, 2007

The End of Lilian Jackson Braun

I discovered the Jim Qwilleran mystery series about four years ago when I was in a total "crash and burn" mentality about romance. I wanted something different, something else. I found it in "The Cat Who" books. Mystery, light comedy, no blood & guts, no swearing, and very limited romantic situations. I greatly enjoyed the books, to the point of making a bulk purchase of about 15 titles through ebay and more still through used book stores so that I could have the entire collection at my beck and call. The books are fun, easy to read, and--a real selling point to my mind--you can read them over again and still enjoy them.

After reading her last book, "The Cat Who Dropped A Bombshell", I was perplexed by what appeared to be a major shift in LJB's writing. During the course of the story one of the most endearing supporting characters died (granted, he was 100 years old, but still) and another "regular" was killed in an accident. Not unusual; after all people die every day, but odd in her Utopian environment of Moose County. Usually only the bad guys die there.

The book got some scathing "reviews" from fans on Amazon and other book sites; most weren't pleased. I wasn't either, but I told myself she'd do better next time.

I brought home her latest, "The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers", yesterday and read it through last night. I tried my best to keep my mind open and my spirits up. Alas, disappointment was the word of the day.

I'm disappointed on several fronts, namely that there didn't seem to be any mystery plot unfolding. I mean, a person died, but from a bee sting. Foul play was suspected because the venom kit went missing before the death--but no one was ever blamed. Money was being embezzled from an estate sale, and it seemed pretty obvious who was doing it--but no arrests were made, no confessions confessed.

Qwill's longtime girlfriend Polly quit the scene halfway through the book--she moved to Paris to work in a library. Good for her--but in an earlier book she left the Pickax library to open a bookstore because she didn't want to be a librarian any more! Add to that the fact that Qwill didn't seem to mourn her absence at all--when in an earlier story he told her he loved her--and it equals more disappointment.

Then--oddest of all--Qwill's barn home, the architectural wonder of the county, burned down at the end of the book. Understand, this home has had a central role in the series--the refurbishing of it, the architect hanging himself, the parties, and the antics of Koko and Yum Yum on the ramps. LJB devoted one paragraph to this announcement, and Qwill's only reaction was a bland: "Thank goodness the cats weren't in there." That was it.

Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would say. The book was paced almost frantically, like she couldn't wait to type The End or something. The plot was scattered and uneven, the story jumped around, went here and there, but never drew me in like her other, older stories.

Reviewers are, again and even more so, aggrieved at this latest title. Speculations are running rampant--maybe she has Alzheimer's, maybe someone else wrote this title, maybe she's just out for money... who knows. But my speculation is this: LJB is an old woman, late 70's I believe. She could be ill, she could be demented, she could just be sick of writing and want to retire. But I think before she does, she wants to wrap up Moose County so tight that no one will be able to pick up the torch again and start writing "Cat Who" mysteries. Hence killing off supporting characters, shipping other ones out of town, and burning down a pivotal "scene spot". She wants Qwill and his friends to retire and enjoy themselves.

So let's raise our glasses of Squunk water in a toast to Jim Qwilleran, Koko and Yum Yum. Thanks for the stories, the mysteries, the memories. Moose County, it was nice knowing you.


Robyn said...

I wish there was a way to do it without leaving a bad taste in the mouth.

If you still like the English cozy mystery with a little more romance, may I suggest The Thin Woman series? I adored them.

spyscribbler said...

Wow, what a heartbreaking ending, though. Wow.

Sounds almost like she's so tired or burnt out on this world that some passive-aggresive hatred towards it manifested itself in her work.

Though I can't really say, I've never read one yet. Just a remark from reading your post.

Ali Kayn said...

I'm behind in my reading, so it's good to read your view. If the series is over at least we won't have any more twee comments about Qwills romantic moustache and greying hair.

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